Is The F Word Even Bad Anymore?

I’m fucking curious.

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Photo by rawpixel

In 2011, I tried to get my editor to approve the use of the word “shit” in a headline. To quote Cher Horowitz, I was brutally rebuffed. Yesterday, during the course of my usual internet comings and goings, I spotted this headline:

“Chrissy Teigen Just Got So Fucking Real About Giving Birth And People Love Her For It”

I was more taken aback by this headline than I was about Chrissy’s reference to vaginal tearing during labor. Not that the use of the F word was offensive, but just that it was allowed. Granted, Buzzfeed is not really a barometer for right and wrong, but it did get me thinking about how we use bad words (I’m using “bad” instead of curse or swear, because I think those are ridiculous ways to refer to language).

If we’re using bad words in the normal course of digital content communication, sans placeholder text, asterisks, etc, are these words even bad anymore? We used to use the F word to offend, shock, or insult. There used to be an element of punk rock, of rebellion in its use. Now we’re using it as a normal adjective in clickbait. Has the word “fuck,” forgive the pun, gone soft?

I was once considered too young to utter the word “fuck,” much as I was once too young to vote or drink, though nobody could really tell me why. The lack of codification around words considered bad leaves a lot of room not just for people to interpret them as they wish, but for the words themselves to evolve. It’s fucking chaos.

To shed light on the matter, I consulted the utmost authority on words and social media shade, Merriam Webster. I never imagined my favorite account to keep up with on Twitter would be the goddamn dictionary, but here we are. Not only does this glorious institution list the word, but also it refers to it with surprising language.

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Image via Merriam Webster

Do you see that? Usually! That means there are times when the F word is not obscene, and not vulgar. When are those times? Is the time now? Has our modern slang lexicon relied so heavily on the F word for punctuation, humor, and color that we’ve scrubbed its devilish coating clean off?

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I’m most interested in the mutation of the F word from something harsh and biting, into something that adds strength, weight, and even literary quality to everyday sentences, as in the Girls gif above. This sentence isn’t offensive. It’s a goddamn compliment.

There is no definitive take on whether or not the F word holds any true weight as rough. Sometimes this bad word ain’t bad at all. And I have a feeling that the more we use it to decorate everything from headlines to Instagram captions, the more it will lose its reputation as the kid smoking in a leather jacket behind the gym.

On one hand, that’s fine with me. I use it decoratively all the time! And then I think, wait…if it loses its dangerous je ne sais quoi and becomes just a normal bit of slang, that means we could lose it altogether–and we can’t lose the F word. So many fabulous words have been lost to time. I don’t want the F word to go the way of the Shakespearean insult or prohibition-era reference. Stay with us F word, don’t you dare let go.

A few examples:

Beardsplitter = penis (Victorian)

Sard = fuck (medieval)

Gadsbudlikins = goddamnit (rough translation)

and my personal favorite:

Fopdoodle = dumbass

Don’t you wish fopdoodle was still a normal thing to say!? I sure as fuck do.

I don’t have any answers here, I’m just tossing the question out there because I’m interested in popular opinion. If we’re using the F word in headlines, casual television dialogue, and just the normal course of conversation, is the F word a bad word, or just a highly malleable verb that will eventually go the way of the beardsplitter? One wonders.

My obsession with words and language isn’t going anywhere, so if you need someone to keep an eye on the progression of the F word, I’m your gal. But from where I sit, this once-dangerous word is now nothing more than fluff. We are witnessing its deflation, and soon it will be no more used than archaic slang words of generations past. That’s fucked up.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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