Word of the Week – The F-bomb

Let’s talk about dirty words.

A euphemism is a mild or indirect expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt. It’s derived from the Greek term meaning “use of words of good omen.” Any place for that in modern fiction?

Some colleagues in my critique group objected when I allowed my protagonist, Susanna to say, “No fucking way!” She had reason to be upset, (the bureaucracy was putting a child in danger) and that’s the way people talk when they’re mad.

This character wouldn’t use such language if she were talking about sex. That’s not her voice and it would be out of place in the story. In this context it was a swear word, what linguists would call an intensifier; doesn’t mean a thing, so not really “dirty.” Not long ago in our history, the greatest conversational taboos had to do with profanity, thus the many versions of gosh darn it, dagnabit, golly, jeepers and dang!

After all, every language needs a quick response when you drop a raw egg on the kitchen floor. Scholars say the Romans had 800 swear words. If we didn’t have them, we’d make them up, like the toddler in our family who got mad at his grandfather and improvised with, “You – you dirty diaper! Go poop in the potty!”

The “f-word” was omitted from U.S. dictionaries until the 1960s. Even Norman Mailer, who wrote sex scenes that shocked some readers, was persuaded to substitute “fug.” When he was introduced to Dorothy Parker she said, “So you’re the man who can’t spell …?” See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fuck

Apparently, the Motion Picture Association of America still rates some movies R for “raw language” alone. A quick look at their website doesn’t tell me which words are too toxic for the ears of teenagers. Entertainment Weekly, however, claims that Philomena, Judi Dench’s movie about an elderly Irishwoman, got an R rating for dropping the F-bomb twice. One time, maybe you can get by with it.