Friday, August 3, 2007

Profane or Not Profane? That is the Question.

I’ve been meaning to comment about the fact that in two recent blogs, I used the F-word with all its letters in place, no asterisks acting as proxies. Although with the under-30 generation it has become mainstream, for most people older than that, who are still pretty much running things (except the internet!), it is still preferred that the F-word not appear in all its naked glory.

One of Grammar’s loyal readers has commented that he finds the f-word one of the ugliest in the English language. He doesn’t specify why. I don’t think it can be strictly an acoustic thing, or he would find the words truck and duck and cluck just as distasteful. Perhaps it’s that he believes it’s an ugly word for a beautiful act. Well, given that this particular loyal reader is Grammar’s father, I’m not going to get into any sort of discussion of the relative beautifulness of The Act, but I don’t think it matters, in any case, because the word as used today is simply an extremely versatile expletive. It does still mean The Act, but only peripherally. So it surely can’t be ugly for that reason.

I think that it can only be considered ugly because we’ve had a few hundred years of conditioning to believe that it’s the depth of profanity. But that’s a pretty random thing. It could happen to any group of letters. I personally think there are very many uglier words in English. For example, I can’t STAND the word borborygmus. The word itself is both visually and aurally ugly and if you look up its meaning, that doesn’t help. I think the word slave, as a noun, is an ugly word, as is pedophile. There are other words that I will not put into print, not even with asterisks, that I think are so much uglier than the f-word.

Believe me, I am with you in not caring for casual use of this word. However, and perhaps this is the linguist in me again, it is just a word. To me it seems the height of absurdity to believe that rendering it in print as f*** protects us from its vulgarity when obviously anyone over the age of six instantly sees the full word in their mind’s eye and hears it with their mind’s ear.

In my blogs, it seemed to me especially silly to beat around the bush when I was using it to make a very specific point about its effect between the generations. I was not flinging it about gratuitously as an expletive from my own mouth, as it were. I have, however, chosen in this particular blog entry to avoid spelling it out. I waffled on this; there are a lot of F-word mentions and on the one hand if I’d spelled them all out, it might have desensitized anyone inclined to be appalled and taken its place as just another word. However, the over-30 fuddy-duddy in me won out and decided that so many f***s in so short a space would be too jarring. And so I have protected us all with specious asterisks and hyphens!

It’s possible that the hip-hop generation’s own children will take on a nouveau Puritanism and send vulgarity back to the bathroom walls, but I doubt it. I predict that in less than ten years, you’ll see the F-word spelled out everywhere. Already you seldom see its companion, the S-word, in an asterisk-substituted form.

I am not alone in this opinion, obviously. When I was researching whether the S-word had yet appeared naked in any mainstream newspaper (it has), I came upon the following facetious picture. It made me laugh, and I hope all you fellow fuddy-duddies out there will agree and not be upset that at the very end, here, I've allowed profanity in my blog again!

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