“Never use a big word when a little filthy one will do.”― Johnny Carson.
Once upon a time I sat in a creative writing class in Montreal. We were at the point where we had to critique a student’s submission. The story, a detective novel set in Russia, held up to our scrutiny of character development, survived the bug-a-boo of point-of-view, and religiously adhered to the little red thread of plot line. With all of this already on the table what was left to me to argue was the minor point that Russians probably had their own word for ‘f**k’ and that the authenticity of this potboiler hinged on that detail.
What that word might be – who knows – but a North American expletive did not work for me. The vague possibility that it might be a pneumonic did not sell either.
Two thoughts immediately came to mind – the first, the slightly self-righteous platitude of “write what you know”, and the second was a silent but damning snub; “perhaps you should travel more”.
It was at this point that my native Russian teacher claimed that the word “f**k” was as pervasive in Russia as winter coats, beaver hats and vodka.
This comeuppance has stayed with me for years and now is the time to come to terms.
An easy hunt for street art images that support the universality of the word began and, it is true that “that” multipurpose word is everywhere.
Thanks to the likes of civil liberties comedian Lenny Bruce, the “f” word’ has successfully withstood the censors and pops up almost anywhere that humans exist. This dandelion all-over-your-lawn word also holds the dubious distinction of being the only swear word that starts with an ‘f’.
“It feels so good when it comes out of your mouth.” – Bill Maher
Let’s face it . . . when it is fully enunciated it becomes not only a completely gratifying mouthful but also a multi-functional word that overshadows all of its weaker competitors – a sort of “one (f**k-ing) ring that rules them all” situation.
Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
– Mark Twain
Weaker synonyms such as screw, shag, bang, hump and schtup, and even the more delicate “fornicate”, are only single-function words. Whereas the mighty “F**K” is not confined to any quick rise-and-fall action.
It is a metastasized bomb that has infiltrated language and grammar and intensifies itself by parading as a noun, verb, adverb, or object that can describe despair, pain, annoyance, confusion, aggression, incompetence, laziness, rebellion, almost anything really.
The only phrase more powerful than “F**k you” is, according to the great George Carlin, “Un-f**k” you. He claimed that to remain un-f**ked was, by far, the more mean-spirited curse. Somehow I also think that he would consider the underused “f**k me” as sexual narcissism
“What kind of ‘f**kery’ is this?” ― Amy Winehouse.
The “F” word pops up regularly in my hunt for street art with a social relevance twist. I realize that about 50 years ago it was a powerfully shocking word and if uttered around parents, the threat of violence would soon follow. Now, like “Puff the Magic Dragon”, it, too, seems to have (slightly) ceased its fearless roar.
If we get back to the point, we do know that the etymology of the word has been blamed on the Germans, but they insist that it is not them so – f**k off.
Maybe the Russians will own up?