I read an article by Roger Ebert the other day, which was actually reposted from his blog about the word fuck. In it, a reader asks him if he will review a movie called Young People Fucking, assuming that he might not because of the highly offensive F-word in the title.
Ebert was a bit wishy-washy in his reply, saying, on one hand that he’d certainly review the movie if it was worthy of review—regardless of what words are used in the title, but also expressing that he feels the word fuck has connotations of rape and reminiscing about a time in the 30’s when no one would ever say such a horrid word and how they were just as happy for not having had it in their vocabulary.
Perhaps I’m still showing whipper-snapper tendencies, but I found myself rolling my eyes at cantankerous old Ebert. I think that implying the words fucking and raping are synonymous is absurd. And I think it foolish to compare modern vernacular to that of almost 80 years ago.
I think the most distressing part is that someone who writes for a living would ever disparage the usage of a word, or reminisce about a time when it wasn’t in common use.
Words only have the power that we assign them. Think of it this way, has someone ever told you that they loved you, but deep down, you knew it wasn’t true? The fact that this person said the word didn’t equate to its true significance did it? And similarly, when a person who isn’t comfortable using that word—expressing that emotion, does use it, isn’t it even more potent?
I get a kick out of people who refuse to swear, especially when they substitute homophonic euphemisms for their word of choice.
Who do these people think they are fooling? The sentiment is the same, even if the particular word is different. Can anyone really be so obtuse as to think that assigning the meaning of an “offensive” word to a widely accepted one really changes the vulgarity of the thought and emotion that drives it?
And what about that thought and emotion? Is it so new? I look back to Ebert’s friends from the 1930’s and ask myself, did these people ever stub their toes? Did they not cry out in pain and frustration when they did? Are the ideas of scoring or getting lucky really so much more tasteful than that of fucking?
It’s really pretty simple when it comes down to it. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Words are nothing more than various combinations of letters and the word fuck is harmless unless you assign it a power greater than that which it deserves.
80 years from now, when the word fuck is powerless and inconsequential, some reporter may look back to a better time and place, when it was in common use instead of the current in vogue obscenity and it’ll still be a joke. Sooner or later, people will have to learn that it’s not the word itself that is vulgar or offensive or powerful, it’s us. Same as it always was; same as it always will be.