How did the ”F” word ever become so overused?
It seems to pepper every conversation. The Big F is so ubiquitous, so mundane, so everywhere that it’s been robbed of its singular power to shock.
My goal here is to defend the Big “F” as a valuable word, which deserves saving before it is weakened into oblivion by overuse.
I figure if one of the Washington Post’s most conservative political thinkers, Charles Krauthammer can write a column to defend the F-word and speak up for its proper use, so can I.
In his column, Krauthammer rallied around then Vice President Dick Cheney after Cheney muttered “F— you” on the Senate floor to Sen. Patrick Leahy. That was in July 2004, after the Vermont senator accused Cheney of steering huge defense contracts in Iraq to Halliburton. Krauthammer called Cheney’s use of F— you , “a demonstration of earthy authenticity.”
Such “earthy authenticity” is not limited to conservatives. You can count on a series of F-bombs every night from Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Stewart’s sentences are constantly bleeped as he says “f——-,” in his satirical critiques of the GOP. The Daily Show has such skilled writers, Stewart doesn’t need to rely on ”F” to be funny. His constant use of the big bad word has become habitually ho-hum.
I first began to think about the proper use of the Big F when my daughter, Brett Jones — now a U.S. State Department diplomat — came home from Unity Pre-School one afternoon murmuring “F–-” as she walked through the house; continuing to repeat it as she stooped down to pet our blue-eyed cat. Maybe an older friend at school had told her to say F-word, hoping to get her in trouble. Or maybe she was trying to get a reaction.
Instead of shock, her swearing got us into a conversation about F-word etiquette. I told her to save the F-word for the most frustrating or terrifying times in life, when no other word will do. Occasions such as facing down an attacker, or when you have done something incredibly stupid or hurtful to yourself or to others. I told her words are only bad when they misused or wasted.
My first real encounter with the serious waste of the F-word was at Stanford University, where I had a Knight Fellowship. One morning, a militant African-American group called the Black Panthers invaded our black literature class. The Panthers blustered their way into the classroom to shake down Stanford students for money to free Huey Newton. Newton was a Black Panther leader who was then in prison on a manslaughter conviction. The Panthers took over the lectern from our white professor, calling him a “Honkey.” And then walked down through the rows of chairs demanding that we give them cash. Every other word they said was “F-ck.” I refused to donate.
After the Panthers left, I went to get a tuna sandwich at the Student Union. When I arrived, another Black Panther was standing in the center of the courtyard on an informal speaker’s platform, haranguing the few students eating hamburgers at the tables outside. The Panther was wound up in an F-word frenzy which I think was intended to scare us. But instead of empowering himself, the Black Panther’s limited and repetitious vocabulary made him seem silly and boring.
The last time I said F— in a proper and good way was in the KITV newsroom after doing something very dumb. I had spent hours before finally get a phone call through to a soldier from Honolulu on a combat patrol in a remote area of in Iraq. After finishing the interview and saying goodbye to the soldier, I realized I had forgotten to push the button on the phone to record the interview. I had nothing for my news story. Amazingly, we managed to get back in touch with the soldier a few hours later, but the interview was not the same as the first time around.
My friend, attorney Margie Au, says, “We never ever used the F-word when we were young.”
Au says she didn’t really hear the S-word or the F-word a lot until she went to work for a large law firm in downtown Honolulu in 1984.
“Now you hear young people all the time mouthing off with F—. It’s just laziness. They don’t want to take time to search for the right word to explain why they are angry. It’s not constructive. It just escalates an argument instead of leading to any kind of mutual understanding,” says Au.
New York casting agent Rebecca Dealy, 29, whom I met at a party here over the holidays agrees that the frequent use of “F“ is a generational thing. Dealy says if used the right way, “the F-word is like a cry to the gods. It freezes time. It makes you feel better.”
She says she also uses “F” in her job for what she calls “comedic value” to loosen up nervous young actors she is preparing for casting calls.
Michelle Broder Van Dyke, night editor at BuzzFeed in New York, says her father, the late University of Hawaii law professor Jon Van Dyke and her mother, attorney Sherry Broder instilled in her a respect for language and that she understands the power of the right word used in the right situation but she doesn’t worry too much about the F-word.
I wish someone would worry about the Big F before it becomes like any other word, bland, neutral and lifeless. There are fewer and fewer words left anymore that have the power of a hot knife cutting through butter. Or as Krauthammer puts it, “ … the directness of a dagger.”