Oh... F_ _ K!
Put it to bed, man!
There is language and there is bad language. Then there’s ridiculously silly bad language. I speak of the ubiquitous use of the four-letter F-word.
Whether read or heard, the word always grates on my ears and, possibly, my heart. For some reason, I find the word considerably more offensive than the less frequently heard four-letter S-word. Both are crude allusions to private physical acts, but only the F-word lends itself to exhibitionism. I just hope feces never become sexy.
Some dictionaries acknowledge the widespread revulsion for the F-word. An internet dictionary prefaces its list of definitions with a “usage warning” that summarizes the situation: “For many people, the word is extremely vulgar, considered improper and taboo in all of its senses. Even so, various forms of the word, primarily in its nonliteral, slang senses, have increasingly crept into casual use, not only as spontaneous expletives of shock, horror, or anger, but also as verbal tics and common intensifiers, mere indices of annoyance or impatience or even pleasant surprise.”
There’s no mystery about this proliferation of coarse language. Blame entertainment media. Writers of screenplays and standup comedic routines often try to grab audiences by shocking them. The F-word seems to be their go-to shocker. Yet the more they employ it, the less shocking and more soiling it becomes. So, faced with a diminishing return on their investment, these brilliant dialogue writers crank out the word even more frequently.
Shock doesn’t work that way, of course. That these geniuses don’t seem to comprehend the fundamental character of repetition shows the poverty of their imagination and paucity of their vocabulary.
The result is groaning predictability in scripts. We see characters in historical dramas routinely emphasizing every other utterance with one variation or another of the F-word, as if people always have routinely talked that way. We see characters living in intra-coastal U.S. states in the 1950s flinging around the F-word in open conversation on their way to church. Right. What we have here is writer projection.
Young people, especially young uneducated people, are the biggest victims in all this. They are in awe of cultural influencers and a shocking word appeals to their inner rebel. Yet language is powerful enough to help lift a culture… or degrade it. When a society lazily slides into an uglier place, the young are left to grow old there. What a shameful legacy.
Some people defend use of the gutter word by saying it’s been around since the 1400s. Well, so has lust, rape, promiscuity and adultery and we generally try to discourage all of that, don’t we?
Hey, we need exclamations! We need to vent before we explode. I get it. But we can let off steam without resorting to the F-word and the four-letter C-word and similar offensive grunts. There are alternative and less degrading exclamations. How about… “Blazes!” or “Your dad wears mismatched socks!” or “Let’s go, Brandon!”
There are any number of imaginative expressions just waiting to be shouted—or written.