Fair Warning At The Top: This post uses that ‘F’ word a lot. You know, the one that’s four letters, starts with F, and rhymes with Truck? Nobody’s doing that in the post, if that helps, but the word is featured prominently. If that’s not a word you want to read, go somewhere else.
Yes, that title means “Ah Fuck!” This is a post about language and how it changes. The word Fuck is an excellent example. (I could use “sucks” also, but it lacks the impact of Fuck.) In some histories of the English language (yes, there certainly are such things) the word is traced back to early Indo-European, where it was a terrible thing to say, meaning something like “go back to whatever hell you were in before you were born,” or something like that. Other sources cite more recent etymology, but still point out that the word was well beyond the line of impolite throughout most of its history. In fact, it has only been since the late 1950s that the word has gradually come into common use in English outside of military personnel and frontier towns.
It’s a fucking shame, is what.
What I mean is that, it has become more common, and you can actually say it on primetime TV so long as it’s used for emphasis, as it is in italics above. It doesn’t happen often, and conservatives always get aroused when it does, but when it does, in that manner, the FCC shrugs and goes about its business. Not so back in the 1950s. Good heavens, Lucy and Ricky had Hollywood beds. That is, matching twin beds. She got pregnant somehow, but certainly not by fucking, because that just wasn’t done in those days, except by tattooed sailors and criminals in seedy hotels and back alleys. Everybody knew that. And when you told somebody “Fuck You!” it was a damned serious thing to say. It’s maybe not the nicest thing you can say to somebody these days, but it probably won’t get you knifed or shot, or at a minimum in a fistfight. ‘Cause that’s what it did back in the fifties, my friends. Because that good old word, fuck, was a very powerful word. Now? Pffffft! Not so much, huh?
Look at those italics again. It could say terrible shame, or tremendous shame, or horrible shame, and the meaning would be the same. A really big, honking, lot of a shame, bro, and don’t you forget it. Yeah, fuck indeed! One of the most powerful words ever to enter the English language has been reduced to a weak, slap-on-the-wrist sort of word, and that’s on the powerful end. On the weak end it’s just another one of those modifiers you search your manuscript for so you can use fewer of them. Friends, I really do think that’s a fucking shame, because I like powerful words. Which fuck isn’t, anymore.
And that’s because that word, like all of English, and every language, even French, much to the dismay of their language Institute there on the Seine, changes constantly. In Spanish, during my lifetime, B and V have come to be pronounced exactly alike. They weren’t in 1967, but they are now. If you want to see change in French, just compare written to spoken French. The joke is that it’s simple, you just don’t pronounce most of the letters. But, they used to. And in English, among many other changes (anyone can check their own vocabulary to see that I’m right) (heh heh) the word Fuck has been diminished by too much everyday use. As a person who uses language to craft his products, this is the sort of thing that I have to watch out for. I try to avoid using slang, because it changes so often. Not so easy to know how to avoid having your wonderful word become useless, though. Sigh.
Well good luck, give it your best shot, and if they don’t like it, you know . . .