Friday 6 April 2012

F is for the F word

It always interests me that every language and culture (or those I know about) seems to have a word everyone knows, but is considered unspeakable in polite company. Take the F word. You know what it is (if you don't, you've probably just arrived from a different planet, in which case you'll have no idea what I'm talking about), but you wouldn't expect me to write it in this post. You're right. I'm not going to.

We all know what it means. There are other, more acceptable words, which mean the same thing, so why pick on this one as the most (almost) abusive word anyone can choose? I think we all need a word to use in extremis. For nice, civilised people, it might just be "damn". But for many, it's the F word (there is a worse one, but it's a noun rather than an adjective, and not nearly such a good expletive).

But times are changing, and nowadays the use of the F word is so common that soon there will be no really, really naughty word to use when, say, you hit your thumb with a hammer. Children "pick it up from schoool" (or, more likely, from their parents, who tell everyone they've picked it up from school); it's there in abundance after the nine-o-clock watershed and in novels. It seems that there's no going back.

So I grieve for the loss of the F word as one to be used on special occasions (as by my son, some years ago, when he dropped an entire tray of cut glass on the stairs). It's just as unpleasant as a word, but we've been immunised by its constant use. What is there left?

Somehow, "bother" just isn't the same.


  1. It's sad the way it is used so much, often without a trace of relevance. It makes me shudder to hear it simply slotted into ordinary sentences. I'm relieved my girls never say it, at least not in my presence, although I wouldn't mind if they let it slip in a moment of total catastrophe. And as you say, that's what it's meant for and there's nothing left to replace it. My girls seem to use the initials from text-speak as expletives these days.

  2. It still works well for me in extreme situations. Something about saying it just make you feel better. It's a very nonviolent way to vent.

  3. Well, since you've gone from ball games to cockchafers an’ directions (yeah, it's tenuous) and mating pandas, I can't say today's choice comes as a surprise, though I'm pretty sure you'll be mortified to see the unfortunate link in those posts. That being so I'd like to suggest 'shotguns and firecrackers' as an alternative, should you feel the need to vent an expletive or two.

    While smiling at your son’s little mishap, I recall a time many years ago when my brother answered a knock at the door. An elderly asian gentleman was waiting with a suitcase, selling things door to door. Such was my brother’s shock; he almost committed the cardinal sin of effing in front of our mother. ‘There’s a f-f-f…’ he announced, as he came down the hallway. In a moment of inspiration, he completed the sentence thus. ‘…f-fakhir at the door!’

    Happy Easter, Frances.

  4. Joanna, I agree.

    Yvonne, the problem is that - meaning notwithstanding - it is a very satisfying sound to make when under duress!

    Mr. V, it's all in your mind, not mine! A happy Easter to you, too.

  5. fricka frack!
    it has a whole new meaning, even if just in frick form, coming out of my 8 yo's mouth!

    it will always make me crimge!

  6. I am amazed when I visit family in the UK, how much the word is used. We only left in 2005, but I do not recall hearing it continuously. Interesting choice for F. :D

  7. I agree! I've heard it used in front of small children so much now I think everyone must be becoming immune to it. Working in a school, I'm very well trained not to swear when something unexpected or painful happens and I rarely swear at home now - just out of habit! Makes me chuckle to hear myself being so clean-mouthed. However, nothing makes you feel better when you hit your head like a "FFS!" does! LindaK

  8. I use the F word - but generally in my head and don't let it escape from my mouth - although of course it sometimes does...

    I too hate that it is in common use in conversation and to me when used so it is just that - common.

    Remembering the good old days when hubs was a mere boyfriend and we were upstairs on a bus and two men swore. Hubs said "Excuse me - my girlfriend's here - can you not swear please?" and they both apologised. In todays society they would have told him to "F off!"

    Ah, for the good old days...

    Anna :o]

  9. I blame TV, everything has been diluted.

    Its a shame...

  10. My Mum who, so far as I can recall never said anything stronger than 'dam', always told us that gratuitous use of swearwords was a sign of a lack of vocabulary. I can't swear without that rather contemptuous remark returning. The F word is not one I use except in extremis but as someone who never blasphemes (which is a mark of respect considering that I am atheist) FWKTM pointed out once that whenever I do swear it involves a bodily function. There is, presumably, a significance to that somewhere.

  11. Tara, I might try that one!

    Glynis, yes. It's got a lot worse in the last fifteen or so years.

    Linda, it helps take away the pain, doesn't it?

    Anna, good old days indeed!

    Maria, TV probably has a lot to anwer for.

    GB, I'm intrigued. Who or what is FWKTM?

  12. FWKTM is such an important person in my life that I forget that many people will not know the acronym. It stands for Friend Who Knows Too Much. I feel a post coming on.

  13. I hate when it's used 3 or 4 times in every sentence.