Those of you who were not children in the 50s, early 60s or before have little idea of how tabooed the word “f*ck” once was. Even now I’m reluctant to write the entire word. Parts of childhood never end.
As a kid, I never heard the word used in mixed company, though undoubtedly adults, more often men, used it among themselves when kids like me weren’t around.
Decades later in the 1980s when moving to San Diego, in walks on the beach I would overhear teenage surfers littering each sentence with a f*ck, or f’*cking and I was glad no older women were around to hear it. That’s how vulgar the word once was, how upsetting it was to some to hear or read it in public.
One indication of the word’s taboo nature is that no dictionary contained “f*ck” until the 1960s. And the few novels in which the word appeared were banned or taken to court until 1950 or so. Coincidentally, Boston was particularly known for banning books, a ban which often juiced up sales elsewhere.
A war novel in the late 40s titled The Naked and the Dead managed to avoid some of the controversy by replacing the tabooed word with “fug”. More common substitutes have been frig or screw. “Screw you” was a more acceptable way to say “F you” in my youth, but still considered somewhat vulgar. These days I wonder how many people realize there was a connection.
I tell you these things to give some background to the significance of David “Big Papi” Ortiz responding to the marathon bombing with: “This is our f*cking city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” His dropping the “F” bomb wasn’t all that significant in itself – since many people drop that bomb in the media these days. But the Federal Communication Commission has never given its blessing before. Chairman Julius Genachowski tweeted after the game “David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston – Julius.”
What does “our f*cking city” even mean? That’s part of the wonderful elasticity of the word. It is just our way of putting a gut punch in something we say. Or in this case, Papi was grabbing our heart strings and pulling them together. Anger, love, strength rolled into one word. But we should realize that the punch and the passion of that word has been dwindling from overuse. It’s extraordinary power is based on a taboo whose force continues to lessen. The more ordinary, the less extraordinary.
The FCC should continue to rein the word in to maintain what’s left of its extraordinary nature. But, I will be curious to see how the commission responds to those in the future who use the word in less communal bonding moments. It reminds me of my days as a middle school teacher: “You let Big Papi say it! Why can’t I?”
I hope Julius comes up with some good answers.
P. S. *1 – Part of the motivation for this piece was feeling f*cking overwhelmed trying to sort out the economic issues involved in our politics, as expressed in the graphic above.
P. S. *2 – Those inclined to reflect more on the topic should find this entry from the Online Etymology Dictionary of interest.
- Watch: Red Sox Star Big Papi Gets Free Pass For Emotional Expletive (abcnews.go.com)