Saturday, November 15, 2008

Does the F-Word have Magical Properties?

Warning: that certain, special little word occurs several times in this text, for obvious reasons.

Normally, people can judge from the context if a word is appropriate or not. At even the finest of dinners I could be discussing Dick Clark or Dick Cheney, and no one would mind me saying Dick several times during the conversation. But if I would proclaim “You should all suck my dick!” that would rarely be seen as quite as acceptable.

Saying “Dick Cheney is a great man” may be offensive to your sensibilities, but the word “Dick” in that sentence is not deemed a dirty word, even though “dick” can be dirty in many, many other sentences.

So obviously the formation of sounds that form the word “dick” can be acceptable or not, depending on the meaning we give them. That particular arrangement of sounds doesn’t have any special, magical properties; it isn’t the sounds themselves that are dirty. But what about the collection of sounds that make up the word “fuck”? In that case, many seem to do believe that it has some very special properties.

Take for example the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, a somewhat popular science fiction TV-show. A very common expletive used by the characters in that show is the word “frak”. This is presented as just some alien swear word, and therefore entirely acceptable for use on TV. But curiously it has many, many similarities to the earth word “fuck” – besides being homologically similar.

The two words seem, by amazing coincidence no doubt, to have the exact same (and wide) range of use.

When curious about the details regarding the nature of someone’s relationship with someone else you can ask “Are you frakking her?”

When you want to use a strong pejorative to express your dismay with someone you can say “Frak you!”

When you feel that all is lost and want to articulate this feeling you can say “We’re well and truly frakked.”

You can call someone of limited mental abilities a “frakwit” and when you are in strong disagreement with someone you might be tempted to call this person a “motherfrakker”.

If you’re really surprised you might shout out “Frak me!” and if you want to give extra strength to a statement about your feelings of dislike for the thing that startled you, you can of course use an adjectival form of the word, like for instance in the phrase “Frakkin’ rats!”

In short I’ve seen the word “frak” used in almost all the ways that I could imagine using the word “fuck” here on earth. For all intents and purposes it is exactly the same word and of course anyone who sees the show knows this. But they still see it as necessary to keep up the blatantly obvious charade.

To them it seems like it is much more acceptable to say “frak you” instead of “fuck you” but I really don’t see the difference. Unless you ascribe some mystical power to the word “fuck” there is no difference. And obviously no one in the target audience seems to be harmed by the numerous instances of the word “frak”, so maybe the word “fuck” isn’t all that horrible either?

While I do understand that swearing might be frowned upon under many circumstances, I don't understand what is so utterly special about “fuck”. But it seems like many, many really do think that it matters; thinking that you can’t say “fuck” but you can say something that everyone knows is just a thinly disguised replacement for the word.

I see this a lot in internet comments, regardless if the comment thread is moderated and censored or not. I look at many more or less humorous pictures commonly classified as “Engrish” and or “fail” in Internet humor terminology. These pictures very frequently contain the word “fuck” in very larger letters on the picture (in, for instance, mistranslated restaurant menus and foreign street signs) so anyone viewing the pictures have already been subjected to the word and they know that the word is part of the humor of the situation.

But, for some reason, people making comments often inexplicably choose to censor themselves when discussing it, writing things like “f*ck” or “f-word” in their comments when discussing what can be read in the picture. Even though every single person discussing the picture knows that the word is “fuck”, they still think that it is wrong to write it out, for some reason.

Once I understand why this is, I will be another step closer to understanding some of the many oddities of the human mind, so it’s something I think about at times.