Consider the F-word. Yup, that F-word. The granddaddy of all curse words. The exhaustingly exploited F-bomb.
Yes, I’ve used it. You’ve probably used it, too. And if you haven’t, you’ve thought about using it.
That emotionally charged word has become a topic of interesting conversation in our house now that school has started.
“I hear that word all the time from the boys in my class,” our younger daughter said.
“Yeah, me too,” said our sixth-grader. “Third grade was about the time I started to hear it.”
While they might hear it more often on the playground and in the cafeteria, it’s not like they haven’t heard it before at sporting events or from strangers walking down the street.
I’m not particularly offended by the F-word. It’s just annoying, like a linguistic gnat. Its overuse renders it meaningless. Like when it’s used to describe something awesome and something heinous. How can it be both?
It starts creeping into the lexicon of kids who want to feel cool and empowered, like they’re getting away with something. And it pretty much continues to be used by those same kids when they’re adults and for the same reasons.
A few years ago, I attended a presentation at work by a well-respected and talented video producer. About 15 minutes into his talk, he dropped an F-bomb, then he paused, and with a mischievous grin said, “It’s cool if I use that here, right?” He had the self-satisfied look of a 10-year-old who just got away with passing gas at Thanksgiving dinner.
Despite some squirming and uncomfortable laughter from most of the nearly 100 people in the audience, not one of us was willing to admit to being “uncool.” Apparently he took this as an expletive-approving green light.
I started counting how many times he used the F-word and finally gave up after a dozen or so. I soon lost interest in the presentation, because his videos, although impressive, were completely upstaged by his lack of class and his disrespect for a professional environment. Maybe some people found his cavalier attitude refreshing and endearing. I guess I’m just not that cool.
From a grammatical standpoint, I must admit that the F-word has impressive versatility. Although it emerged primarily as a verb, its variations can be used as a noun, adjective, adverb, interjection and an effective intensifier. There aren’t many words with that kind of range.
But aside from that, it’s a lazy choice. And I find it boring when comedians use it excessively. The most creative and funny people don’t have to lean on obscenities and shock to get a laugh.
I can appreciate that the F-word has its place when, say, a hammer falls on your toe. And I have to laugh in conversation with my Irish friends who were weaned on the word and can’t help using it in every other sentence. And it’s pretty funny when Grandma drops a cuss word at a family gathering and grabs everyone’s attention.
As a parent and a lover of language and civility, my appeal to habitual F-bombers is to simply show some respect. We’ve taught our girls that a person’s choice of words is often an indication of how they’ll treat others. If people use disrespectful language, they’ll likely be disrespectful in other ways.
Words have power. They carry energy, vibrations and resonance. The F-word has especially low vibration. That’s why it’s a popular choice in negative energy situations of anger and aggression.
Most people avoid lobbing these word grenades around children or their own moms. So why would we not extend the same respect to friends, co-workers and strangers — or to an audience we were being paid to address?
If you want to grab attention with your language, then consider a creative challenge to try something new. Check out a thesaurus. You’ll find thousands of interesting words in there.
Reach freelancer Jim Cosgrove, aka children's perfomer Mr. Stinky Feet, at firstname.lastname@example.org.