In defense of the f-word
The fact that I dared to use the f-word in a hard-cover book has ruffled a lot of feathers. Apparently, in some circles, this is regarded as a mortal sin. In fact, one entire department of the University of New Mexico has banned my book because of its use of “problematic language.” This is balanced by a more enlightened department who uses it as a textbook for the class “Perspectives in Diabetes,” where I’m told it gets rave reviews from the students.
Ironically, all of this fuss about my use of the f-word might lead you to believe that I’ve used it on every page, like some sort of drunk late night comedian or a radio shock-jock. So here is the trivia question: does anyone know how many times the f-word is used in The Born-again Diabetic?
Four times. Yep. All this fuss over fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Who would have thought that the use of 16 letters in a book of over 50,000 words would cause such a crisis? (Well, OK, it also appears in the glossary once, and twice more when quoting someone else; but I only used it in the text four times.)
Let us look at this logically, clinically. Who swears? Sailors. Soldiers. Lumberjacks. What do they have in common? They are bands of people who face danger together. Is it any surprise that diabetics, especially Type-1s, would also talk like soldiers? Diabetes is trench warfare--dirty, gritty, hand-to-hand combat. People who do not live and suffer with it will never understand it.
So this swearing is all good and fine when chatting with our fellow fighters, and on the wild-and-wooly internet. But why swear in a hard cover book? Do my critics think that I am really that careless of a writer? Now that does insult me! In person, and on my blog, I may be careless in my choice of words. But this is not true of my book writing. Each and every word is carefully chosen and carefully placed, for either strategic or tactical reasons. And that includes my four uses of the f-word. Re-read the book. Or if you have never read it because you are afraid that 16 letters will corrupt your mind, I urge you to read me before you judge me. I believe it was Mozart who said “I am a vulgar man, but I assure you, my music is not!” I did not use the f-word for no reason. Every where it appears there is a good reason for it to be there.
Carefully used profanity accomplishes three things in The Born-Again Diabetic: it gives the book instant creditability with patients who are sick of people in neatly pressed white coats telling them how to live; it sets the work apart from academic and medical texts; and lastly it gives non-diabetic readers a taste of our world. I use swearing in my book writing like a surgeon uses a scalpel. I was very conscious, very aware, of each and every cut.
Never once did I use the f-word lightly. I knew what I was doing. It is a vulgar word, but a powerful one that packs a heavy punch when used correctly, and, more importantly, when used lightly.
The punch I delivered with a mere four words out of 50,000 proves the point.