The World Fuck Crisis
I know what you’re here for, friends. You come expecting a fresh new swear to stuff into your language satchels, like giddy trick-or-treaters at the front door of a crotchety uncle. Ordinarily I would oblige. But the purpose of this swear of the month club has long since expanded beyond the mere coining of neologisms. I have made it my mission not only to arm you with new swears, but with the skill to put your arsenal of swears to good use. And so, with a heavy heart, I must inform you of a crisis that threatens the very heart of sweardom: we have reached peak fuck. It is hard to imagine that a swear which has been with is for so long could possibly lose its edge. In fact, what with our “fuckboys” and “fuckwits,” “fucknuggets” and “clusterfucks,” one might at first assume that we are currently experiencing a fuck renaissance. But even the most prodigious fucker can fuck too much, my friends, and as a society – if we do not take steps now to conserve our precious fuck supply – we run the risk of finding ourselves all fucked out.
Words wear out with use. We see this most clearly with synonyms for cool. “Epic” is a good recent example of this. “Epic” once referred only to grand deeds and heroic tales. It was a word with power. Because it had power, later generations used it to describe things they felt powerfully about – first historical events and political upheavals, then dramatic victories, then regular victories, then hilarious failures, and then … mealtimes? Today, using the word “epic” in any sense will earn you little more than a sneer. We used the word because it was powerful, but our use depleted its power.
The same is true of fuck. While it has long been insulated from this corroding process by the fact that people are less willing to be heard saying it publicly, the proliferation of uncensored language enabled by the internet has lead us to give and receive more fucks than at any other time in history. As quantity increases, potency decreases, and so we find ourselves in a world of diminishing fucks. We live in a world where friends can jovially tell each other to “fuck off,” where “fuck me,” is an expression of mild exasperation, and where many individuals (myself included) use “fucking” as a replacement for “um.” It’s no longer enough to tell a bastard to go fuck himself. We must append additional epithets and adjectives, or at very least an uncomfortable-sounding object with which to do the fucking. As the result of our pathological overfucking, fuck is rapidly becoming a CVS-brand swear. In short, we may have fucked this up for ourselves.
We are at a crossroads, friends. We can decide to preserve our fucks for future generations to enjoy, or we can continue the thoughtless fuckery of the past, until our beloved “fuck” goes the way of “epic.” I know that so far I have played the role of doomsday apostle, but I would not be delivering this bad news if I did not have some good solutions.
First, we must understand that “fuck” itself is not that fucking funny. This is a truth near and dear to my heart, as I spent five years of my life writing the word “fuck” next to the names of various gods and goddesses. When I ran Myths RETOLD, I would often get emails from fans who attempted to imitate what they thought of as my writing style – constant line breaks, and manifold conjugations of “fuck” inserted in lieu of jokes. What people didn’t seem to realize was how much time I spent figuring out how not to write “fuck.”
When I started out, of course, I fucked with abandon. But over time, I realized that I was using the word as a lazy substitute for linguistic precision. The turning point came about when I was working on my first book. The publisher insisted that I dramatically reduce the number of fucks per page. At first I bristled at the request, but in editing out the fucks, I found that I was forced to come up with ever more creative replacements (“a shot glass full of sperm” being a personal favorite).
One theme I’ve attempted to drive home with the swear of the month is that the potency of a swear is directly proportional to its precision. You can call anyone a bastard, but only Donald Trump is a deranged, rotting canteloupe with a big desk and tiny hands. Robbed of its shock value, fuck is a pretty generic swear. As our culture develops a healthier attitude towards sex, fuck will only become less obscene. Thus, if we want to continue to use our fucks, we must use them wisely.
There are two major ways to effectively use fuck, in my opinion. The first is to create tension between linguistic registers. Fuck may become less offensive, but I doubt it will ever be a part of “formal” English, and so using fuck in conjunction with seemingly unfuckable words will continue to pack a punch for decades to come. Phrases like “fucking pavlovian”, “serene as fuck”, and “exi-fucking-stential” exemplify this technique.
The second method, perhaps more broadly applicable, is to embrace fuck’s status as a generic curse in order to create new swears. Much as a chef adds salt to transform unremarkable vegetables into a meal, we can add “fuck” to transform nearly any innocent word into a vector for abuse. I discussed this briefly a few months ago in my essay on the etymology of “fuckboy,” but the principle bears repeating. If I call you a “yam salesman,” you will probably be left scratching your head. If I call you a “fucking yam salesman,” on the other hand, you will still be confused, but you will at least know that I meant to insult you. A “bell” is merely something that rings, but what is a “fuckbell”? Clearly not something you want to be, I’ll tell you that.
With this simple technique, we gain access to nigh infinite swear combinations. Suddenly, any word can be a swear – the more innocuous the better. The great task of this decade, I suspect, will be finding the best of these combinations for inclusion in the lexicon. We already have “fuckboy,” but what about “fucklad?” What about “fuckbird”? What about “fucktree”? The decomposing corpse of the once-proud F-word can yield ample fertilizer for our richly offensive imaginations. All it takes is a shift in mindset, from copulation … to conservation.
It’s the fucking circle of fucking life, fuckers.