My favorite web site (besides USR of course) is I Fucking Love Science. For the uninitiated, it is a site devoted to awesome new science discoveries, science jokes, and geek paraphernalia. Think of it as a rock and roll science site complete with t-shirts, jewelry, and posters. What I think is even cooler is that the founder and operator of the site is a young lady from England named Elise Andrews. My favorite part of the site is the online discussions. Exhibit A is the trolls who vigorously try to deny any stories about evolution. But there is always someone (usually older) who posts something along the lines of, “This is a great site but why must you use profanity. . . . I can’t share it with my kids.” Ms. Andrews is very patient with such queries for someone who has heard them so often. She explains that her generation uses “fucking” as a superlative modifier, and the page was originally intended for a few friends, and there is a mirror site without the so-called profanity. Personally, my response would be that if you don’t like the name, “Go . . . um . . . go somewhere else.” I’m sure that if I ran the site, there would be even more use of the word. To me, it is almost Darwinian. I would respond, “If you can’t stand the word, we don’t want you on our site anyways.”
It is hard to believe that five decades after Lenny Bruce went to jail for saying “Motherfucker” on stage and four decades after George Carlin’s “Seven words you can’t say on TV,” we’re still having this argument about language. About what is appropriate. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to getting in trouble for use of the word. I understand why a student might object to my colorful language in a college classroom. The fact that most of my students think my lectures are entertaining and worthwhile is beside the point. Every student needs to feel comfortable in my room. But I’ve gotten in trouble for using it with felons inside of a prison. WTF . . . seriously? You try teaching intransitive vs. transitive verbs to cholos without using “vulgar language.” As a teacher, you have to get them where they live.
Educated people know that the word “vulgar” refers specifically to the language of the people. My namesake is credited with creating the “Vulgate bible” used by Christians for centuries. You may not like the “F-word” (a politically correct term with limited use. Which f-word do you mean?), but you have to admit it is part of the language of the common people. I know a college grad student who did his master’s thesis on the different uses of the word. Basically, his research showed it is used in every grammatical form except as an article or conjunction. That’s a powerful word. Science tells us that using profanity reduces pain. When you spill spaghetti sauce on the white carpet, what words do you use? Somehow saying, “Golly gee whiz” does not convey my distress at spilling the sauce. I do have a friend whose strongest language at the worst of times is “fiddlesticks” or “Good night’s shirt.” It seems to work for him. Some mutual acquaintances think his mild language is due to his strong Christian faith. Personally, I suspect that his bad back and the high doses of both Vicodin and Percocet he devours is the real reason he doesn’t need the cathartic effect of a good curse word. Even presidents use the word when they think the mike is off.
I sympathize with those who think the word is overused. We hear the word on TV, radio, and in movies constantly. I’ve even heard four-year-olds use it on the school playground. A word, which used to conquer an entire room with its lethality, is now the punch line for junior high comedians. It’s sad really. But the ubiquitous usage of the word is undeniable. As such, I’d like to make a plea for people to stop using a phrase I think is much more offensive than the actual four letter word: F-Bomb. Seriously. Stop using it. As a Vietnam veteran, I know what real bombs do to people. As someone who teaches Iraq and Afghan vets, I’ve seen firsthand what IEDs can do to human beings both physically and mentally. To make and use a metaphor that compares the supposed shock of a one syllable word to the damage caused by TNT plus metal is a real disservice to those who are missing limbs and carry so much scrap metal in their bodies that they can’t have a CAT scan. They suffered this damage protecting our right to use the word. Ask them if the term is acceptable, accurate, and inoffensive. Even better, ask the survivors of the Boston bombing if they would rather have listened to the Tsarnaev brothers shouting the word at them as opposed to using gunpowder and ball bearings to send a political message. Some Bostonians might give you a one digit answer.