BY HELEN CLEMENTE
To lay groundwork for what follows, I begin my discussion by paraphrasing a song made famous by popular Folk Singer, Pete Seeger:
“Where have all the ‘adjectives’ gone/Long Time passing/Where have all the ‘adjectives’ gone/Long time ago/Where have all the ‘adjectives’ gone/Gone to graveyards every one/When will they ever learn/When will they ever learn.”
There is a word up for discussion which is not a word found in my daily vocabulary. To be certain, I do not wish anyone to mistake my abbreviation of this word for something else. The word is F***. I painfully whispered that.
That was a difficult word for me to say, and one that I dislike to the umpt degree. It doesn’t roll off my tongue easily, the way it streams from the mouths of many young people and even more mature ones today. The persons making frequent use of this word crisscross all demographic possibilities. Scores of members of society, whether deemed smart, streetwise, intellectual, upper class, lower class, the college student, the teenager, or even the pre-teen indulge.
There must be a factor which is part of their thinking, that is obviously missing from my thinking, that the use of this awful word gives credibility to their statements. Emphasis perhaps, but not when abused. For many of my years, I believed that this word was the exclusive rite of long-shore-men and thugs, but now it appears to have jumped barriers into the everyday vernacular of many of today’s Americans, male and female.
For the remainder of this discussion, this despicable word shall be written simply as “F..”.
The versatility of the word “F***” is like no other. It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. Here are some examples:
“That F***er always gets his way.” (noun)
“Ali F***ed Paterson” (verb) Not necessarily sexual in meaning.
“That F***in’ train was late again.” (adjective)
“We had a F***in’ good time yesterday.” (adverb)
See! The same word used to express “everything.” Every mood, every emotion, every thought, every color. And as a substitution for nouns it can be the object of a sentence or its subject. The amazing thing is that in whatever way the speaker uses it in a sentence, the meaning is understood by the listener. Or, could it be that the listener really doesn’t care, or is not interested in what the speaker means to say. After all, if he wanted clarification he could ask a probing question or two. But he usually doesn’t. Seemingly, people are satisfied with what is said and they allow it to pass, not even raising an eyebrow.
Each time I hear that hard, blunt, coarse word my shoulderscringe and I want to hand the person a Book of Adjectives. It is such an ugly word. Ugly, that’s an adjective! One of many such.
Why do people choose to limit themselves when there are so many beautiful and expressive words in the English language which can add to the value and impression of what is said. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I know that the Brits use the word “bloody” in their vernacular. I guess for the same reasons. I wonder if people of other nations have a catch-all word in their language. I’ll have to investigate that some day.
Let’s try this again:
“That student always gets his way.” (noun)
“Ali beat Paterson.” (verb)
“That new train was late again.” (adjective)
“We had a really good time yesterday.” (adverb)
Now isn’t that better? Aren’t we now better able to draw a clearer understanding and visualize a scene? Could one reason people have for using the “F” word be that they are lazy? It is easy not having to remember all those ‘frivolous’ words. In addition, it enables one to effortlessly blurt out words while not having to think. It causes one to ponder the question: Does the memorizing of “special words” tax a person’s brain too much?
How difficult it has become to find a modern-day motion picture which doesn’t use this “F” word at least once. And when you consider its use, most of the time, it isn’t necessary to the scene.
On several prime-time TV stations, restrictions apply and it can be distracting when watching a film only to have every other word bleeped out. The bleeps can be just as disturbing as the dirty words themselves. I say words (plural) because there is more than just the one obscenity used today, which are almost as crude. Something nearly as bothersome occurs when the profanity is blanked out by removing the sound. You see mouths moving, but experience intermitent silence. After watching that I get curious at what I just missed.
Back in the olden days of black and white films, (after talkies), it was unthinkable for these handsome movie idols to speak in taboo terms. Off-color words were certainly around then. I knew of them and even used them myself at times.
Could a reason be that common usage of F*** in films today is due to a lack of talent amongst screenwriters? If they could come up with more interesting plots, maybe then they would not have to overuse shock-value dialogue and car chases? It’s sort of the “chicken and egg” debate. Which came first; vulgarity in film or its reflection of bad language in real life?
There was an incident, I recall all too well, when my father bought a black chalkboard for my brother and me. My father was in another part of the house, and so I felt safe to write on the board the words “F*** you,” (only it was spelled out). Why did I do that? Because I wanted to. My brother, usually my protector, spotted it and ratted on me to my father, who then came running toward me from three rooms away. Hurriedly, I smudged out the words with my hand, but the outline was still visible. My brother then shouted out, “See! you can still see it there.” I got quite a whipping for that incident. The difference 60 years can make.
As I walk the halls of the college I attend, I hear the “F” word, in all forms, bouncing off the walls and flying at me from every direction. This is a learning institution, isn’t it? Isn’t the next step the business world? How does one turn off the vulgarity and refrain from using this word after developing such a habit?
What will it take to turn things around? Will it take the prospect of not having a career or the fear of standing, arms extended with hands palm side up on a bread line? Will upright man be forced to accept, as normal, today’s commonly used vulgarity? How will such a serious dilemma as this wind up?