19. The F Word

I think most children say a certain word that’s frowned upon. I think most adults do, too. I didn’t say it until my mid-thirties. I thought it was because I considered the word imprecise, overused, meaningless, and rude. Now, I think not using it made me feel superior, and feeling superior made me feel less inferior. I still don’t use it much. I’m around children a lot, and I don’t want to accidentally say it at the wrong time. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, forget something important, or have some other reason to feel pain or stress, maybe I’ll use it.
What’s interesting is that children use it when they don’t think adults hear them, and adults use it when they don’t think children hear them. If an adult overhears a child saying it, there’s usually some to-do. Not too many get the bar of mouth-soap any more. Mouth-soap is based on an absurd assumption. Dirty words don’t leave microorganisms in the mouth. Still, I bet in the old days there were kids who became soap-connoisseurs. If a child hears an adult use the word, mouth-soap isn’t an option. The most disapproving thing a child can do is open the eyes and mouth wide, perhaps covering the mouth with a hand.
The word is rarely used to mean what it started out meaning. The original meaning has to do with one of life’s greatest pleasures – one which often eventually results in another of life’s greatest pleasures. Hardly subjects that come to mind when you hit your thumb with a hammer. The common uses vary. The word ranges from the kind of expletive deleted from incriminating transcripts to a present participle inserted anywhere within a word. It can be a friendly, angry, or scornful thing to say. I was right in thinking it’s imprecise and overused.
I encourage children to say what they mean. The English language, for all its problems, is full of words. There’s a word, phrase, or sentence for every occasion. And we keep inventing new words and phrases as we need them. User-friendly. Politically correct. It’s a dynamic language. If we chose to, I’m sure we could do fine without that word. But I don’t think we’ll ever choose to do without it.
So what should we do about it? I don’t know. I’m sure some people reading this are offended by my light-hearted attitude towards the word. But really, when you look at our whole culture, with all our problems and issues, aren’t you even a little tempted to say, “Who the frowned upon word cares about one little word?

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