Dropping the F-Bomb

By Joel Achenbach Sunday, June 25, 2006;

The most versatile word in our language can do almost anything, other than be printed in a family newspaper. It can be a noun, a verb, a gerund, an adjective or just an expletive. It can be literal or figurative. Although it has an explicit sexual meaning, it's usually used figuratively these days, as an all-purpose intensifier.

The F-word remains taboo. But just barely. We may be entering an era in which this fabled vulgarity is on its way to becoming just another word -- its transgressive energy steadily sapped by overuse.

From hip-hop artists to bloggers to the vice president of the United States, everyone's dropping the F-bomb. Young people in particular may not grasp how special this word has been in the past. They may not realize how, like an old sourdough starter, the word has been lovingly preserved over the centuries and passed from generation to generation. For the good of human communication we must come together, as a people, to protect this word, and ensure that, years from now, it remains obscene.

Our leaders aren't helping. Before he was elected president, George W. Bush used the word repeatedly during an interview with Tucker Carlson. Dick Cheney on the Senate floor told a Democratic senator to eff himself. Presidential candidate John F. Kerry said of Bush and the war, "Did I expect George Bush to [mess] it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did." No one is shocked that these people use such language, but as statesmanship it's not exactly Lincolnesque.

More generally, the word is imperiled by the profusion of communications technologies. Everyone's talking, e-mailing, blogging and commenting on everyone else's comments. Combine that with partisan rancor and a general desperation to get one's message across, and naturally the word gets overtaxed. In Blogworld there are no idiots anymore, only [blithering] idiots. The most opportunistic move in the corporate realm may have been the decision by a retailer to call itself French Connection United Kingdom, which allowed it to put the company's initials on T-shirts everywhere. Jeepers, that's clever!

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Monty Solomon
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