In defense of the F-word (again)
When Rio was about three or four, his maternal grandmother came to me, and speaking in a hushed voice, with eyes as big as saucers, said, “Rio used the f-word today.”
Huh. Well, did he use it correctly? I asked.
She froze, mouth open, stunned at my response. Then she paused to think about it for a moment, clearly reliving the conversation in her mind. She nodded slowly, and said somewhat hesitantly, “Well, yes…”
OK then. As far as I was concerned, the case was closed. Raised in a world devoid of peers, Rio’s mind works much like an adult’s. And while his reading skills are behind the curve, his verbal skills are off the chart. His teachers tell me they are amazed at his vocabulary. They say it’s like having a conversation with a college graduate, not a fourth grader who flunked kindergarten.
Of course, this comes as no great surprise to me. We are a verbal family: living, working and playing in a sea of words. We love words, and everyone on my side of the family is a working wordsmith. Family get-togethers are like Scrabble, Password, Boggle, Hangman, and the New York Times crossword all rolled into one. Over dinner we banter, duel with words, twist them in circles, and deploy them in word-play jokes. It keeps our minds sharp and our hearts young.
And any good vocabulary needs to come armed with an equally good portfolio of profanity.
Now eleven, Rio has a pretty impressive profane vocabulary. He actually swears more judicially than I do, and more intelligently, too. I’m guilty of fucking swearing without fucking thinking about it some of the fucking time. My son, either with the world’s quickest mind, or instinctively, chooses the appropriate level of profanity demanded by the situation. He still uses the f-word, but rarely, and only when appropriate. And he’s also situationally aware, as well; he won’t say things in school that he might say at home. Smart kid.
And Rio and I aren’t the only ones. The world has changed. Do these words even count as profanity in 2013: ass, bastards, bitch, crap, jackass, and piss? Or consider how often you hear one of George Carlin’s once-shocking seven taboo words at the office or in Wal-Mart. In fact, I quite frequently hear all seven used at once at TSA airport screening points.
Now, my personal profanity portfolio includes the old standbys of the Anglo Saxons: damn, hell, and shit. On very rare occasions I use asshole. Oh and I enjoy a few made-up ones that I’m not sure even qualify as profanity, like frickin’ and Sci-Fi’s frack.
But I NEVER use the C-word, or any other profane slang that’s gender-moral specific like “ho,” or “slut;” or anything derogatory to sexual preference like “homo” or “faggot,” because I’m not a mean or bigoted person. And I almost never say “God damn” unless I really mean it, and then I’m usually deploying it against an insurance company. Used this way, it’s really more of a divine petition to the almighty, than a profanity.
Of course, as any reader knows, I have a great fondness for the word “fuck,” because it’s still edgy enough to carry some shock value, while not insulting anyone’s religion or risking the wrath of a deity. To be clear, however, I rarely deploy it in the way then Vice President Dick Cheney did on the floor of the Senate. I tend to use it as an adjective, exclamation, or a standalone noun. I rarely use it as a verb. I’m not one to advise someone else to get fucked or go fuck themselves. Although I just discovered “fuckwit,” for someone who’s being really stupid. I haven’t used it yet, but it seems like a fitting addition to my verbal arsenal.
Now, I confess to using fuck quite carelessly in speech and blogging. When it comes to blogging, well I’m pioneer diabetes blogger and the Wild West was full of bad fucking language, right? As to speech, I’ve found that working clinically with the poor, a good fuck goes a long way, so to speak. Being a greying tall skinny white guy with a stethoscope, I frequently get mistaken for a doctor. People get nervous around doctors, and aren’t themselves. They fear being judged. They don’t open up. They aren’t always entirely forthcoming. They hesitate to discuss their barriers.
There are literally hundreds of training programs for docs to try to teach them how to break the ice with their patients, and none of them work. But downloading someone’s meter and remarking, “Well, these numbers look pretty fucked up” will do the job in seven words, and in less than five seconds. It’s unexpected from someone in my position. It serves to break the tension, destroy pre-conceptions, and open new pathways for communication. It also serves to show that we are more alike than different. Most of my patients now freely drop f-bombs on me, too. As in, “This fucking diabetes pisses me off!” (Usually followed by an semi-embarrassed, “Please excuse my French.” You’re fucking excused.) Swearing at your diabetes is cathartic. Fucking as medicine, if you will.
Where I’m not fucking careless is when I’m writing a book. Books are different for me, and I take them VERY seriously. I craft my books carefully. I spend a lot of time on every chapter, every section, every graph, every sentence. When you see fuck in one of my books there’s a hell of a good reason for it. I’m drawing your attention to something. In one of my books, fuck is no late night comedy shock value prop, or careless exercise in venting. It’s a semantic slap in the reader’s face. I’m making you take notice. I’m demanding your attention because I’m telling you something important. Given my reputation for bad language, I think you’d be fucking surprised by how few times you’ll actually find the word “fuck” in any of my books. Go ahead. You need to re-read my books anyway. Count the fuckers.
That said, the use of fuck even once between the sacred covers of a book gets people riled up in a unique way. Particularly if it’s in a Hard Cover book. That’s academic sacrilege in many quarters. In fact, it has, no fucking kidding, got one of my books BANNED by the University of New Mexico for its “problematic language.” That pissed me the fuck off, but once I got over it, I realized that being the author of a banned book makes you a history-maker of sorts, and generally puts you in damn fine company. In fact, I should buy myself a “Banned Author” coffee cup over at Café Press, huh? Oooh! Or maybe a whiskey flask. That would be even more appropriate. Should it read “I’m a fucking Banned author,” or “Fucking proud to be a BANNED author”?
Oh. Wait. Right, I owe the fucking IRS too much frickin’ money to being buying any ego-soothing toys. (((Sigh))) Well, fuck…
By the way, the origins of the word fuck are unclear. It can be found in written documents at least as far back as the year 1475, but many fucking experts believe it’s older than that. After all, there’s no way to know how long it was in verbal use before someone had the courage to commit it to paper for the first time. And despite how people excuse unintended use of the word fuck, it doesn’t come to us from the French language. It might have come to us from German, or Norwegian, or Swedish, or Latin, or even Greek. Every fucking expert has his or her own fucking opinion about the fucking origin of fuck. How fucked-up is that?
Somewhat uniquely, fuck can serve as a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, a verb, an adverb, a command, a conjunction, an exclamation, or as part of a compound word such as motherfucker (not a version I use unless I’m talking about a politician). It also hyphenates well. Consider: fucked-up, in-fucking-credible, un-fucking-believable, or abso-fucking-lutely. It can also be placed in time. In the past someone fucked you. In the present they can be fucking with you. You can warn them not to fuck with you in the future.
Fuck also has some cousins such as the word fucker, which depending on how it’s used can be either an insult or a compliment. Consider the use of, “You dumb fucker;” versus the use of, “He’s one tough fucker.”
Fuck is also a component part of many acronyms like the classic SNAFU and FUBAR, both of which have military origins. Wikipedia dates both to World War II, but my grandfather, who was a vet of the U.S. Army Engineers in WWI, once horrified my then-goody-two-shoes sister when he asked her if she really knew what her new favorite word—snafu—meant. They used it in the trenches. Literally.
Fuck also mixes well in unexpected combinations. Consider: fuck this, fuck that, or holy fuck (called a “liturgical profanity” by fucking experts).
What’s not to love about a word with such awesome semantic utility!
And I’m not the only one who loves a good fuck. Let me tell you about my fucking patient. She’s a type 1 like me, and about my age as well. She’s super-smart, being a college professor and biological researcher (ironically, given today’s fucking subject, she’s a sperm expert, but that part of the story will have to wait until another day).
Where the fuck was I? Oh, yes. So she’s on a pump and CGM, but still has trouble keeping her fucking diabetes in control. For decades she’s kept a diabetes journal. She started it right after her diagnosis, but she’s yet to run out of pages. In fact, it’s still half empty. That’s because, like many of us, she has a hard time keeping motivated. She’d journal her diabetes for a few days then throw in the fucking towel for months. That was until her doc, at another clinic, sent her to me.
I see her about every two weeks, and when I go to fetch her from the lobby she’s always writing in her journal. I’m privileged that she’ll often share what she’s written with me. One day recently this is what I saw:
I loved it so much I asked for her blessing to photograph it and share it with the universe. Right. It’s just the word fuck written over and over and over again. But what’s so fucking great about it is that she’s hand-written it in different type fonts! I don’t think I’ve even seen anything quite like that. Anyway, it gets my vote for the new National Anthem of Diabetes.
I just need somebody appropriately fucking talented to set it to music.