Overwhelmed With The F-word
Wednesday - September 07, 2005
Weavers secondary school in England has decided to allow some pupils to swear at teachers - including using the “f” word - so long as they don’t do so more than five times a semester. The school says this might improve the behavior of 15 and 16 year olds who have been troublesome pupils.
Some fine writers in the New Yorker are using the “f” word with great frequency and the editors are allowing it.
“F”, of course, is not any kind of shock word in New York City, or even on our school buses in Honolulu or wherever teens gather. It’s acquired a rite-of-speech-passage similar to what the French allow for their common scatological word merde.
That’s too bad.
Merde may mean excrement, but it does have a nice resonance. The “f” word is very abrupt. That’s why so many German words sound like swear words even when you’re merely asking the time.
I like to hold the “f” word in reserve, like a company of infantry during a battalion attack formation. You only send it in when everything seems lost. It’s your final stroke. If it, too, fails, then you are doomed and the opposition has won.
We taught our daughter to sling that one only when all lesser weapons have failed.
But her and my wife’s limited use of the word seems to be running counter to common English these days. It’s become both a transitive and intransitive verb, a very active and a very passive verb, an adjective, an interjection and sometimes a conjunction. Frankly, English teachers would be hard-pressed to find any other word so versatile in diagrammed speech.
Chris Wand of Mobius Venture Capital company has tongue-in-cheek argued that there have been significant historical uses of the word.
1) “What the @#$% do you mean, we are sinking?” - Capt. E.J. Smith of RMS Titanic, 1912
2) “What the @#$% was that?” - Mayor of Hiroshima, 1945
3) “Where did all those @#$%ing Indians come from?”
- Custer, 1877
4) “Any @#$%ing idiot could understand that.” - Einstein, 1938
5) “It does so @#$%ing look like her!” - Picasso, 1926
6) “How the @#$% did you work that out?” - Pythagoras, 126 BC
7) “You want WHAT on the @#$%ing ceiling?” - Michelangelo, 1566
8) “Where the @#$% are we?” - Amelia Earhart, 1937
9) “Scattered @#$%ing showers, my fanny!” - Noah, 4314 BC
10) “Aw c’mon. Who the @#$% is going to find out?” - Bill Clinton, 1998
But that’s all in fun.
Truth is we need a good word held back to signal others we are really mad. If my wife ever used that word in an argument with me I’d know it was time to head for sanctuary.
If we scatter-shot the “f” word, what’s left? It was so overused in the recent movie The Devil’s Rejects that it became filmmaker Rob Zombie’s joke to show us that it’s all the vocabulary some people have.
Use it and sound a bit “2” on a scale where 10 is most witty and one is dunce material.
I hope teachers and parents will consider posting this column for their students and children.
Ever since I took heat for my columns on the late attorney David Schutter, I’ve considered a possible new source of revenue for my old age.
Maybe I’ll take payments not to write about you when you’re gone.
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