Wikipedia defines the word “fuck,” in the first sentence of its entry, as “an obscene English language word”, but admits further on that “it is unclear whether the word has always been considered vulgar”. This much is clear, however, that the word itself elicits highly emotional reaction, even now, when our society is far less refined than it has ever been. Even those who use the word in casual conversation will disingenuously claim to be offended by its use, as it displays an apparent lack of decorum in certain situations, and by certain people. Case in point, actor Robert De Niro’s recent two-word statement of disdain toward President Trump at the Tony Awards, which elicited countless outraged posts on social media by Trump supporters, as if what De Niro did was tantamount to an assassination attempt. Even those who share De Niro’s disdain for the president, and who pay lip-service to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, argue that the film star crossed the line, whatever or wherever that line may be.
The word “fuck” has Germanic origins, as does the English language itself. It is unclear as to when the word came to be considered obscene, or profane (as opposed to sacred), but originally, going back at least seven centuries, it referred to cattle copulation, which might help explain how its sexual connotations came to be seen as dirty, like farm animals, and thus offensive when referring to sexual intercourse, should we be comparing ourselves or each other to animals (see Bloodhoud Gang’s 1999 hit “The Bad Touch”).
Of course, over time, as we know, the word and its many forms took on a multitude of meanings; we tend to use it to apostrophize God’s name taken in vain (“For fuck sake!”), to express utter disbelief (“What the fuck?!”, “no fucking way!”, or “Get the fuck out of here!”), in courtship (“let’s fuck”), in exhortation (“Fuck off!”), or command (“Go fuck yourself!”) – Actually that last one could also be taken as a wish or a blessing, similar to “have a nice day,” if the user were telling you to go and do something that you were probably going to do anyway.
I like the word. To quote Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, “I know at least 127 words, and I still prefer ‘fuck’.” Admittedly, I have tried to refrain from using it on social media for a month because I was promised a box of cookies if I could, but I digress.
People we admire, even those who claim to be as decorous as they wish Mr. De Niro to be, use it when they think no one’s listening. The reason why your 3-year-old runs around the house singing “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” is because he or she has heard you use it countless times. And the real reason you try to stop the kid from saying it is just in case someone as judgemental as yourself hears, and then looks at you like you’re a bad parent. Well, fuck them.
In this age of post-social media outrage we’ve all become so holier-than-thou. We still use the expression “How dare you?!” even though that mode of syntax has been out of fashion for decades. It’s gotten to the point where in the midst of a heated argument, one that might come dangerously close to fisticuffs, no sooner does the F-word slip past the lips of one party, then the other takes on a scandalized look, and says “I’m happy to argue with you, but could you please refrain from swearing. It shows a lack of respect. Thank you.”
But does it really? Is the word – or any other profane term – really so offensive? It kills me that the very people who claim to be so sensitive, and so offended by the term – a short, 4-letter, one-syllable sememe beginning with F – have the audacity to call me and my ilk “snowflakes”. They’re a bit too quick, I think, to run to the defense of the president – who, need it be pointed out, has said and done worse.
As for offense, I refer to yet another comedian, Jimmy Carr, who explained, quite rightly, in my view, that offense is taken, not given. Author J.K. Rowling recently tweeted “You’re free to offend. The rest of us are free to say we’re offended. That’s what freedom of speech means.” For my part, I’m skeptical that people are as scandalized by the word “fuck” as they claim to be. What say you?