Sunday, April 19, 2020

The F Bomb?

WARNING: Viewer discretion is advised. The following may contain language and opinions that are offensive or disturbing to some readers.
Over the past weeks, largely because of the “Stay Home” directive flowing from the coronavirus pandemic, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time watching Netflix. As have the other 170 million of its subscribers.  So attuned to the introductory formatting of movies and television series, I have become part of what I would characterize as a type of ‘herd immunity’. In fact, the warnings, typically in relation to “graphic bloody violence”, sexuality, and “strong language”, have become teasers, of sorts, enticing audiences with what amount to invitations to discover what exactly is meant by those terms.

Growing up, swearing and foul language were not permissible in any circles of society in which I took part. And the F word reserved for itself a special level of disdain during those preteen and teenage years. Sure, some of the rough, rebellious crowd used such language within their own social cliques, but it was considered unacceptable in any public setting. Perhaps taking the metaphor too far, I heard teachers and parents threaten children with “washing their mouths out with soap” for use of such profanity, although I cannot say that I ever saw the ritual performed.

Today, it seems the use of “foul” language by almost anyone, women or men, professionals or politicians, elicits little more than a raised eyebrow or, more likely, a yawn. Given its proliferation in music, movies, stand-up comedy, television, book titles and entertainment of all sorts, not to mention everyday verbal and written communication, many people do not even recognize its frequency of use. Take, for example, the F bomb. It seems this verb has lost all of its supposedly redeeming explosive power and shock value due to its common usage (often multiple times in one sentence). Of course, there are numerous derivatives in the F bomb family, such as F off, F you, WTF, FUBAR and the more recently adopted disparaging mother-f___. Although it remains tethered to the original definition of the F word, “violent and, typically, elicit copulation”, it seems to be bandied about with a large variety of meanings, leaving it difficult to define except in the context of its use in any given sentence or phrase.

Now, despite my introductory warning, I can almost hear the responses of some of those who are reading this post saying, “I can use whatever language I want. You’re just being judgmental and “puritanical”, trying to control others freedom of expression.” Look, I know there is little chance that anyone reading this post will cease using the word, or watching movies that do. Perhaps because, as one author noted, “few words in our ever-expanding language are as flexible or versatile[i]” as the F bomb?

However, I think it is worth asking the question, “is the use of the F- word beneficial, helpful, definable, or worthy of including in our daily lexicon?” Or, has the expletive worn out its welcome, becoming just another tired, overused and meaningless expression that is better left out of any helpful communication?

[i] "Why F___ Is One of the Best Words in the English Language", by Max Hill, The Peak, March 3, 2014

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