I have lately been intrigued by the processes by which certain words gain currency and proliferate in contexts which would never have been imagined for them. Socio-linguists point out that it is in this ability of the English language to morph itself into various new contexts and usages that keeps it alive and makes it so universally accessible. Lynn Truss, in her not-so-new but latest book, ‘Talk to the Hand', came up with an interesting history of spitting, manners and etiquettes. She also mentioned that the word ‘Eff’ (she is a lahdie, and writing for an easily-offended audience) is probably one of the most offensive words that the British populace uses in very creative ways and sometimes in unexpected manners. The other word is ‘Buggery’ (which, by the way, she doesn’t have a problem using, and that, I think, tells us all we need to know about lahdies) but that is not a very universal word and is only sometimes used by people who miss out the ‘R’ in the BuRger.
However, leaving Ms. Truss aside (she also mentions that she really likes these titles), I started trawling the back-rooms of the interwebz, looking for the commonly used words which were once (presumably) offensive – whore, rape, slut, and The Fuck. No, no, not a fuck, but the way in which the word Fuck gets used all around the place – left, right and the fucking centre. I was also quite amused at the way in which it gets euphemized severally – bird, finger, freak, fish – by different users. The Fuck (we are still talking about the word here) has become such a ubiquitous commodity that I don’t really notice it too much. While Ms. Truss finds its overwhelming presence offensive, I have been wondering, if, by the same logic, it loses its edge and meaning – because it is a small word (four lettered) which is now asked to perform the function of many different words, stretched to its limits and producing interstices for new, more virulent, more effective words to be produced.
Some time ago, on a list-serv (which I have accurately tagged, sorted, and archived, and hence can no longer find) somebody was asking about whether this naturalization of loaded words leads to a specific naturalization of the action that they refer to as well. It is a question that needs answering but it also requires thought and I have no time for thoughts right now. So I am not dealing with the other commonly used words (You are such a comment whore; oh we got raped in the exams; I am such a slut when it comes to phone calls) and concentrate on Fuck. (umm, that is not what it sounded like in my head.)
Etymological queries about Fuck lead to that extremely questionable anecdote about how in some century (far, far away) there was a monarch who made sure that the only way you could enter into a state of congress (hur, hur, hur) was under his consent and hence, newly wedded couples in the aftermaths of holy matrimony, would take the consent of the king and hang the sign ‘Fornicating Under Consent of King’ (F.U.C.K.) outside their doors before going at it like bunnies. It has no credibility but I like the idea of a licensed fuck.
From here, I started thinking about when was the first time I fuck’ed – as in used the word fuck. I remember being sixteen and getting a key-chain for the birthday which said ‘good shit!’ and taken away by parents and recovered by me by the time I was too cool to use something like that. However, my first memories of using the word ‘Fuck’ in an embarrassing situation was when we were reading George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss – a tome of a novel that would have done with some editorial intervention and could have been cut down a few hundred pages (don’t get me wrong, I still love the novel, but when you have to read it for exams, some of the joy dissipates) – and I Christened the novel, in one exasperated fit, as Mill on the Fucking Floss, only to be heard by a sensitive professor who gave me The Look and shuffle away. That was when I was 17. By the time I was 19, Fuck was no longer an offensive word and I remember debating about its usage in ‘official’ meetings. Fuck was just a fuck – as long as you did not mean anything with the word, it was o.k. to use.
Look at all the ways in which the word was being used to convey a wide range of emotions:
- Greetings - "How the fuck are you?"
- Fraud - "I was fucked by the bank big time!"
- Dismay - "Oh, fuck it."
- Trouble - "Well, I guess I'm fucked again."
- Aggression - "Fuck you!!!"
- Disgust - "Fuck me!!!"
- Confusion, Curiosity or Disbelief - "What the fuck....?"
- Difficulty - "I don't understand this fucking thing."
- Despair - "Fucked again."
- Desperation - "Fuckityfuckfuckfuck."
- Incompetence - "He fucks up everything."
- Intelligence - "He's a fucking genius."
- Dismissal - "Why don't you go outside and play hide-and-go-fuck-yourself?"
- Displeasure - "What the fuck is going on?"
- Lost - "Where the fuck are we?"
- Disbelief - "Unbefuckinglievable!!!"
- Pain - "Fuck ! that hurt."
- Pleasure - "Oooooooh Fuuuuuuck"
- Surprise - "Fucking hell what was that?"
- Agreement – “Absofuckinglutely”
- Stupid person - "Dumbfuck!"
- Denial - "I didn't fucking do it."
- Perplexity - "I know fuck all about it."
- Apathy - "Who gives a fuck."
- Resignation - "Oh fuck it."
- Questioning Authority - "Who the fuck do you think you are?"
- Praising the Lord - "Jesus Fucking Christ."
- Be quiet - "Shut the fuck up."
- Bewilderment or Ignorance - "Fucked if I know."
- Thanks - "Fuck you very much."
How can a word, which is being used so variously, diversely, and in some cases, so hilariously, be of offence to anybody any more? These are my thoughts. Now it is for you to speak. How do you react to the word Fuck being thrown at you? Or if somebody uses it more often than your sensitive, about-to-shrivel ears to take? Also, what have been your embarrassing ‘Fuck’ing’ moments? Share ye all.. I am all effing ears.