Table of Contents

Brian the Writer

Those Darn F-words

Brian McCorkle

Who decides which words are offensive or coarse or foul?

We humans are an odd bunch. We have an awkwardness about our natural functions. From some of our peers, there is a constant need to suppress and coerce such things as sexual activity and speech.

This means insisting what words, thoughts, or ideas are acceptable or what words, thoughts, or ideas must be suppressed.

There is benefit for those doing the suppressing. This is after all a dominance encounter. The mechanism of dominance is not well known except there are increases of some hormones in our bodies that accompany a rise in eminence or dominance. And certainly to dictate to others how they must speak along with how, when, and with whom they must breed is an attempt to dominate.

In the days of Lenny Bruce, cities wasted manpower and money to make sure he did not use adult words in an establishment that sold liquor. And, these were words that were in common use amongst the youth of the day. Police and prosecutors of the time did not want to attend high school classes to root out and eradicate nefarious words. That would mean that parents would be next until most citizens would be prosecuted. It is better to persecute a comedian in a faraway city than to attack the local taxpayers and voters.

There are people who are attempting to ban the word "nigger" from the mouths of Americans, pronounced n‑word, to be politically correct. Because somehow, we still must use a word if we discuss or argue its banishment but we cannot do so by the rules. So the solution is to hyphenate so we have f‑word, n‑word, t‑word (for taxes), or G‑word (for those claiming that to speak the word God is a sin).

Not all words that some wish to oppress are in common usage. There were two Indian woman who traveled from state to state lobbying to ban the word squaw from place names and maps. The premise was that this was a word that used in a derogatory manner even if the usage were uncommon. When people pointed out that this was a valid word from some of the eastern tribes, these women countered that it was just too derogatory no matter what. In some states, they were successful.

There is a claim the word Eskimo is demeaning. This is based on the premise that Eskimo is really a Cree word meaning "eaters of raw meat". I do not believe that Eskimos cavorted with Cree, much less understood the language, or for that matter even cared what the Cree might think. Since I enjoy sashimi, I could also be an Eskimo by that derivation. And, Cree is really a French word so perhaps that should be banished in favor of the original Algonquin name, Cristinaux.

I once worked with an engineer who had an encounter of the strange kind. Instrumentation design uses letter codes to identify instruments on drawings and specification sheets. For example, CT would stand in for consistency transmitter. When his secretarial staff was entering this information into a database, they pitched a fit over the initials FU (for fuse). Although FU is common usage for fuse, this is not a standard designation of the Instrument Society of America. FU would be a multifunction flow device while a fuse could have a designation such as XX for unclassified. But, the complaint was not based on the improper use of the letters, but that the people thought it to be nasty and demeaning. The staff was allowed to force the change. If the letters had been use correctly, the result would have been the same. To allow this kind of hysteria to overrule designations produced by an American Standards Organization is an example of how easily we cave to claims of offense. Had I been in charge, I would have replaced the staff with people who did not have their minds in the gutter.

At one time, gender feminists were supreme word dictators. According to a flier from the Fox Valley Technical College (c. 1994), adult human females were not to be addressed as girls, ladies, as well as an impossibly long list of other words. My daughters were young teens then. I asked them what they felt about the list. They both responded that they disliked the term ladies. A clerk at a perfume counter had used that term on them in what they felt was demeaning.

Nowadays, there are so many people claiming to be offended that I just can't keep up. I've given up reading minds long ago. I cannot possibly know whether a person will take offense at my words. I have developed the philosophy that it is any person's right to be offended. I will not deny them.

There is a hierarchy of offensiveness. In 2002, a high school freshman girl found herself in trouble. She was Mormon and her classmates were teasing her about having ten mothers. Her response was "That's so gay." For that statement, she received a written warning and a notation in her permanent record. It was not gay or queer people who complained, but the principal of her school ‑ a principal who had no problem with labeling all Mormons as polygynous since he did not censure the students who accused Mormons of having ten mothers.

The O.J. Simpson trial was chock full of references to the n‑word. If Detective Mark Fuhrman had been candid, he could have asked, "Do you mean Nigger?" Members of the dream team would have bounced around and exhibited offended behaviors but, the trial would been much different since sandbagging Fuhrman would have been more difficult.

One of William Faulkner's great short stories was "That Evening Sun." The following is a bowdlerized conversation between five‑year‑old Jason, who is white, and a black woman named Nancy.

"I ain't a n‑word," Jason said. "Are you a n‑word, Nancy?"

I'll leave to others to determine if this has the same meaning as the original.

If we look carefully at the shady words, those that are low class and live in the nether regions of our mouths, we find that those who condemn these consider themselves as the genteel saviors of society. Casual analysis shows that the condemned words are Anglo‑Saxon while the approved counterparts are French (or Norman). When Harold fell at Hastings so did a staunch part of the English language.

A fire‑and‑brimstone preacher can condemn fornicators to H E double‑fiddle‑sticks. We mere mortals are required to condemn f‑worders to that same musical domain. Those of us who are writers know that short pithy words are more effective than portmanteau words. But, we shy away anyway. Some variations are permitted strictly for entertainment value. British comedian Benny Hill had a routine where he talked about fokkers, with various embellishments. The audience would titter and giggle at twists and turns of his monolog then roar when he let them know he was talking about airplanes.

I suspect that attempts to ban words are doomed to failure. After all, the word cops are always discovering new words to oppress. And we humans are a creative bunch. The politically correct words are turned to bad words though simple usage. We cannot call people retards. We must call them geniuses instead. In the end, suppressing words is like the modern attempt to suppress sex between consenting adults. Most people enjoy sex and carry on. Most people enjoy speaking and do so.

I'll admit that I tried to stop my children from using f‑words. I had no success. No matter how much I blustered, threatened, cajoled, and much more, they persisted.

"It's not my fault."

"It's just not fair."

First Appeared in Ego Trips Number Six (Autumn 2007)
Experimental Literary Journal of the
Fox Valley Writers Club (Wisconsin)