It’s a F_ _ _ _ _ _ Shame

It’s a F_ _ _ _ _ _ Shame! 

By Patrick F. Cannon

There was a time when the word fuck was rarely used in print, or in polite society for that matter. While some newspapers and magazines still print it as “f _ _ _ “, the venerable New York Times now permits the actual word in some cases. Years ago, its use was limited to male only areas like the golf course, the army barracks or the corner bar. I can’t remember the first time I heard it used in mixed company, but I remember being shocked the first time I heard an educated women say the word. I can’t imagine anyone being shocked by that today.

I have a history with it myself. I must have used it as a teenager, but it was the army that taught me that it was a word for all occasions. The most common form was “fuckin” as in “fuckin’ army” and “fuckin’ sergeant” and of course “fuckin’ chow!” Its pervasive use reminds me of a story I’ve often told. I had a friend in basic training named Jim. He was from downstate Illinois (for those of you not from Illinois, “downstate” is essentially any place in the state outside of Chicago).

Jim’s father was a blacksmith. Before you get the wrong idea, a blacksmith in his case was really someone who repaired farm machinery, although they (it was a large concern) did shoe the odd horse or pony. Jim was a graduate of Bradley University and intended to carry on the family business when he got out of the army. He was the only one of my basic training buddies who also went to Signal School at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, so we spent nearly four months together.

When we finished school, we flew into Chicago together. My sister Kathleen picked us up and took us to her house for breakfast, where Jim’s parents were going to pick him up later in the morning. It was quite a breakfast; bacon, sausage, eggs and pancakes. At the table were my sister and brother-in-law and my three young nieces. When the pancakes were passed, Jim took a couple, and then innocently asked: “would someone please pass the fuckin’ butter?” Stunned silence. Realizing what he had said, Jim’s face turned bright red. No one said anything, but my sister did pass him the fuckin’ butter.

One more story before I start preaching. When my children were small, we lived for a couple of years in Glenview. One day my then wife and I took them to the Sears at Golf Mill for a reason I have long since forgotten. As I recall, my wife was buying some nuts at the candy counter and the rest of us were loitering nearby. Beth – who was then maybe three – naturally thought we should buy some candy, which was arrayed in dizzying profusion before her admiring eyes. Her mother said something like “no, you’ll get candy at Easter {which was nigh} so you’ll just have to wait” All of a sudden, her little voice began chanting “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuck, fuuuck…”

As you might imagine, these words coming from the mouth of a cute little girl caused a few raised eyebrows. As it happens, she heard the word from her brother, who picked it up from an older neighbor boy. Although I believe that they later learned the actual meaning of the word, it’s unlikely they did then, but one never knows.

Nowadays, I almost never utter it out loud, but must admit I often mouth it silently, usually when some idiot cuts me off on the road, or when some particularly pompous politician utters one of the more obvious platitudes.

In recent years, the eff word (I’ll call it that from now on) has been joined in popularity by the em effer and cee sucker words. Now, English has some one million other words to choose from, but you would never know it from listening to today’s comedians and watching “premium” cable and online channels. I don’t frequent comedy clubs, but the premium channels give air time to popular stand-up comics, who seem unable to talk without using profanity. I even heard one comedian defend his use of the eff word by saying he thought the word itself was funny. Really?  Lewis Black is one comedian I actually admire, but wonder if it has ever occurred to him that he might be just as funny without effing everything in sight?

Somewhat related to the belief that profanity is fashionable, is the trend of comedians of both sexes to endlessly prattle on about their sex lives, which are usually dysfunctional in some way. The word “discretion” is one of those one million English words, but it may soon be dropped from the Oxford Dictionary for lack of use.

While even the broadcast channels are getting a bit more liberal, it is the dramas on the premium channels where one finds the blossoming of the eff word and its accomplices. A good case in point was the series “Deadwood,” which ran on HBO for a couple of years. I watched some episodes, and the dialog included a veritable blizzard of profanity (spoken, it must be said, by a very good cast); indeed so much that it was sometimes difficult to follow what was actually going on. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the series was set in Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s, and included historical figures like Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and George Hearst, William Randolph  Hearst’s father.

Unbeknownst to posterity, it appears that Tom Edison must have been there trying out one of his newfangled recording devices, else how could the drama’s producer and writers have had any idea how people actually talked in 1870s Deadwood? Or perhaps some Harvard linguist turned up to study the local denizens and his paper was found in a dusty corner of the university’s library? Or just maybe the producer decided that piling on the eff and other words would provide a veneer of “reality” that would provide a guilty pleasure to a gullible audience?

I had once harbored the hope that good taste would ultimately prevail, but the evidence now seems to indicate otherwise. How else can you explain the primacy of vulgarity over wit, and the Kardashians for that matter?

Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon

 

7 thoughts on “It’s a F_ _ _ _ _ _ Shame

  1. Two of my favorite “F” bombs come from military. FUBAR (used this heavily in my accounting roles) and Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot ( a more civilized manner to get the point across). For those not familiar with these two, FUBAR translates to “F***ed Up Beyond Recognition/Repair and Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot are the military words used in radio transmissions for “WTF” (and I think we all know that one).

    Next time I see Beth, I’ll have to remember to have some “candy” for her. LOL

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  2. My initiation into the mysteries of profanity came as a lad in Brooklyn, where the language was rich, funny, varied, inventive, often theatrical and refreshingly free of political correctness. The eff word was only a minor adjunct in the arsenal one could unleash in any situation. Bear in mind, it was profanity not spoken in anger but in a spirit of fun and playfulness. Here’s what I mean:

    This reminds me of a time in a NY eatery where at an adjacent table a guy was in the process of breaking up with his sobbing girlfriend. Possibly by way of explanation he told her, “You know what your problem is? You’re just too fuckin’ sensitive.”

    Profanity works in Brooklyn because it is Brooklyn. Take it out of its natural context and it’s like white actors performing in blackface. It’s awkward, it makes you cringe, it’s an affront. I know Lewis Black isn’t a Brooklynite. I mean, he want to frickin’ Yale! But he picked up his shtick in NY, so perhaps we can forgive him.

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    1. The only time I was ever in Brooklyn was when I left for Europe courtesy of Uncle Sam. I hope to remedy this next time I go to NY. Perhaps I’ll dine in one of Brooklyn’s notable Italian restaurants and be able to say “pass the fuckin’ chesse, please.”

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      1. Hmmm, in a bar or pizza dive, maybe, but Italian restaurants would frown upon profanity as you would in church. Like the old adage, never curse in front of your boss or benefactor.

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  3. Not sure you have seen the series Shameless on showtime. They use the word in almost every sentence, but we enjoy the show regardless. While the phrase was not uttered in the show, Lip, one of the main male characters, had a t-shirt on, covered by an open button down shirt. The phrase was certainly readable under the shirt. It said “Fuck you, you fucking fuck”. For some reason that phrase has become our mantra of sorts, especially in these political times. We probably wouldn’t say it in public, but get a chuckle when we say it to ourselves, speaking about our fearless leader, or anyone else of equal idiocy. Anyway, just wanted to share our current use of the word. We enjoy your articles!

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