Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is The F-bomb Losing Its Bite?

Lisa McKendrick

Is it just me or is the f-bomb losing its bite? When I was in high school twenty-ish years ago, I remember how the word jarred me. I would come home at the end of a school day and feel weighed down from having heard so much of it. Graduation and heading off to BYU meant, among other things, freedom from a constant barrage of cursing. But whatever reprieve my freshman year gave me has long been over, and since then, let's just say I've heard a lot of cursing. The difference, however, is now the people spewing the obscenites are not just high school kids trying to sound tough, but moms in Wal Mart on the hunt for an illusive can of lima beans, and young-adult authors endeavoring to write what they consider "teen truth." And to all of this I find myself growing less and less repulsed, the barbs of that word stinging less against my thicker skin. This, in my opinion, is cause for alarm.

What has made me consider lately the declining umph of the f-bomb was watching the Jimmy Kimmel Show and seeing Sara Silverman--Kimmel's hugely funny but vulgar girlfriend--in a music video wherein she confesses what she's been doing with Matt Damon. The f-word is everywhere. I watched it and thought, Wow, this is on TV. Sure, they're bleeping it, but it's still there, and what's worse, it's funny. As a writer, one of my favorite things to do is write comedy. I like to think that my standards for what is funny are high, and that nothing cheeseball ends up in my books. Yes, the f-word can be funny, Silverman and Kimmel (he produced an equally vulgar yet hilarious retort to her video) proved that. But there are LOTS of ways to be funny, and I would argue, there are LOTS of other ways to write about teenage angst, or for that matter, express your frustration about having to hunt for an item in Wal Mart. I remember my linguistics professor, Royal Skousen, telling us that language is constantly changing, evolving in the words it uses and the meanings behind those words, so maybe what I see happening with the f-word is unavoidable. But still, there's this part of me that sees that word as society's litmus test, and that if we accept it as part of casual conversation or as something that we're willing to laugh at, then perhaps it won't be long before our skin is so thick that nothing in this *&%$ world offends us.


Doug Johnston said...

I love working where I do, because the influence is very positive. The problem with todays world is that it is a normal word.
I coached a high school girls soccer team for a couple of years, and I heard that word from what I thought were these girls that would never say that word.
One of the first things I learned in writing, is that people that write with swear words, usually do not have imaginations.

Anonymous said...

You are so right! One of the advantages of age is perspective. There was a time when foul language including taking the Lord's name in vain was not permitted on TV. Being over 60 years old, I have wittnessed "The Slide" as I call it. People who are born into this envirnmment do not recognize how quickly this slip into profanity has come. The sad thing is that it is no longer shocking.

Christine Thackeray said...

The f-bomb used to be a great litmus test but as it has become more acceptable throughout society, we may have to change the way we recognize other's hearts and standards. It seems to daily get more difficult to define who we can trust and admire by simple, clear measures. Bummer! We may have to actually get to know people.

Lee Ann Setzer said...

I just got done reading an otherwise well-written book, which included a liberal sprinkling of f-bombs. About 3/4 of the way through the book, something really, REALLY bad happens (it's sf, so unknown bad guys blow up the entire world). Of course the remaining people are waaaay beyond ticked off, so to show that, the author has them say the f-word a lot. Except, they were already saying it a lot. There was noplace to go.

There doesn't seem to be a new litmus test, yet. I have a feeling we won't like it when one finally emerges...