[NOTE: I’m not gonna lay responsibility for this post on anyone, although some flippant conversations in various comment threads over at Flumadiddle had a lot to do with it.]
OK, let’s start with a kinesthetic exercise. Pull your lower lip up and over your lower teeth. Almost simultaneously, bite down as hard as you can stand it with your top front teeth, trying to get them to crunch against their toothy siblings hiding under that labial covering. Propel your entire skull forward quickly as if you were beginning a head-butt against the world, and at the same time snap your top teeth upward, opening your mouth wide to scream silently; if you hear a slight explosive sound, you’re doing it correctly. As you do this, pretend that you’ve been punched by the entire cosmos hard in the gut, and react with a pained “uhhhhhhhhhh.” After a while, bring the back of your tongue up to the place where your hard palate meets your soft palate, and then force the tongue and the roof of your mouth apart by propelling a compressed, but noisy and disgusted, loogie of air forward.
Isn’t that fun? Try putting it all together, and doing it faster. Short of putting your fist through a wall, can you think of a better way to express anger, or annoyance, or exasperation, or extreme disappointment? It made you laugh, too, didn’t it?
Congratulations. You’ve just said “fuck,” a word allegedly frowned on by polite society. If you like saying it, you can turn it into an adjective: “fucking” or the Noo-Yawky “fucken.” You can follow it with a preposition to express an action: “fuck up” or “fuck off.” You can merge it with other words to make composites: “fuckface” or “fuckwad.” You can use it to emphasize a simple yes-or-no answer: “fuck, no” or “fuck, yeah.” You can throw a pronoun after it to make a complete sentence: “Fuck it!” or “Fuck you!” You can play with it by adding any syllables that sound good to you and/or by repeating it a few times: “fucka-fucka-fucka” or “fuckety-fuck-fuck.” Or you can just bang it out as many times in a row as it takes you to calm down: “fuck fuck fuck fUck fUCK FUCK.”
Technically, of course, the word means “to have sexual intercourse with.” If you look up “fuck” on Wikipedia — and I’ll bet some of you have already done that just for fucking fun, haven’t you? — you’ll find all sorts of bogus derivations, none of which makes a fuck’s worth of difference in the context I’m discussing here.
Some fuckwit blogger who pretends to understand sociology, psychology, culture, and linguistics wrote this:
Americans prefer to think of themselves as a classless society, but in fact there are some pretty clear distinctions along linguistic lines. If you take the number of "fucks" spoken by a person in their daily conversation and divide it by the total number of words they speak, you will come up with a stable fraction that could be called that person's "fuck quotient." Statistically, a high fuck quotient corresponds to low education, economic opportunity and social standing. In some inner-city neighborhoods, "fuck" may be one of the most-used words; in posh suburbs, it is hardly ever heard. Occasionally, people of high social standing will use "fuck" to indicate theatrically that they are street-wise, but a high fuck quotient usually signifies frustration and powerlessness. You wouldn't have to use it if you were respected and getting what you wanted.Now, I don’t know what “posh suburbs” this jerk has been hanging around in, but I’ve heard “fuck” everywhere. In fact, I’d guess that the use of the word is not class-rooted, but rather, education-based. (By “education,” I ‘m not referring only to classroom stuff; I mean the mental activity we call “learning.”) People with the lowest levels of education use it a lot because of its “magical” properties; “fuck” and its variants help them get their mojo on. People with the highest levels of education use it a lot because it’s so much fucking fun to say; they realize that words, in and of themselves, have no dark, mystical powers; and they have big enough vocabularies and sufficient linguistic awareness to know that English lacks a suitably forceful synonym to express their strongest emotions.
Steven Pinker addresses some of his ideas about “swearing” in his new book, The Stuff of Thought. Usually, my lack of knowledge about a subject doesn’t keep me from spouting off about it, but I have so much respect for Pinker that, since I haven’t read his book yet, I won’t comment on it. I did find a quote from an article (now, alas unavailable for a link) Pinker wrote for “The New Republic.” He said:
When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."(You can also listen to this short excerpt re this subject from a Guardian Unlimited interview with Pinker.)
The problem I have with Pinker’s take on “fuck,” at least from what I’ve seen and heard so far as representative of his position, is that he lumps that delicious nugget of language in with other so-called “swear-words.” He does say: "Since swearing involves clearly more ancient parts of the brain, it could be a missing link between animal vocalization and human language." But he doesn’t seem to focus on how terrific you feel, physically, when you drop, specifically, the f-bomb. But saying “fuck” is different, somehow, from intoning “shit,” or “hell,” or “goddammit.” Those latter words are all expletives derived from unpleasant associations. But let’s face it: most of us enjoy the act of fucking. It’s not unpleasant at all, unless you’re doing it wrong. Even then, it’s probably better than lots of things you’re doing right. Religions may frown on fucking in many contexts, but that doesn’t keep humans —even devout ones — from taking indescribable glee in jumping on one another’s intelligently designed bones whenever and wherever they can. Yet, none of the other synonyms for “fuck” has been classified in quite the way that “fuck” has. Sure, you might say, “Screw you!” or “Go bugger yourself,” but they’re not the same, are they?
So why this long testimonial to “fuck”? Because I’ve noticed — and you’ve probably picked up on this, as well — that it appears a lot in comments throughout the Atheosphere. We freethinkers really like to say it. What’s more important, though, is that we’re not afraid of saying it, we’re not restrained by a need to make a hypocritical nod to convention, we don’t feel that we’ve demeaned our ideas by seasoning them with some verbal salt and pepper. Not only do we not believe in any gods, we also don’t believe in ridiculous “standards” of speech and behavior that have no moral basis whatsoever.
So we use “fuck” for emphasis, humorous value, expressing irritation, and just plain for the fuck of it. And the simple usage of that word is sometimes sufficient to enliven a piece of writing. You can’t just read “fuck” with your eyes. In order for it to have any effect, you have to hear it in your head, or, better yet, say it out loud. Inserted into a text at the right point, “fuck” adds an intimacy and conversational quality to even the driest argument. At that very moment, the writer is speaking directly to the reader; he or she asks you to listen to that “fuck,” and maybe even sing along.
So should you use “fuck” all the time? No, please don’t. It gets boring after a while, like too many episodes of Seinfeld back-to-back; it starts losing its flavor, like the sixth glass of fancy wine during dinner.
But by all means, use it when it feels right, when your emotions need that kind of bang for their buck (or fang for their fuck). The Atheosphere is about freedom from religion, but it’s also about freedom of speech. Nobody’s gonna call “foul language” on you for saying whatever you want. In fact, I’d guess that many of you, as I do, enjoy reading “fuck,” writing “fuck,” hearing “fuck,” and saying “fuck.” As I noted at the beginning of this post: it’s fun. In fact, it’s the funnest English word there is.
This episode of No More Hornets was brought to you by the word “fuck.”