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F**k!
You see f**k in print a lot these days. It used to be spelled “f—k” or sometimes “f__k”, but because it’s thought to be so vulgar, so obscene, the whole word is rarely seen or heard. Up until recently, it was spelled “f___” in an even sterner attempt to honor civility and good taste. The K, apparently, was thought to bring the reader dangerously close to the actual expletive. “____“ has also been an option, though that choice requires parenthetical elaborations such as “a harsh vulgarity” or “a four-letter-word” or some such prim phraseology.

“The F-word” still enjoys wide usage for this purpose, as does “F-bomb” and ponderous evasions like ‘rhymes with mukluk.” For those of you who don’t know, by the way, the word we’re figleafing here is “fuck.”

F**k is an old, if not honorable, word, but only in the last decade has it gotten the attention it deserves. F**king, it should be mentioned, is a very common practice among humans, and it is certainly not obscene in and of itself. Even so, it didn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1972. Even now it is kept hidden in most public reporting when the usage is thought to be gratuitous (as in “that’s fucking gratuitous, dude”).

F**k has been getting a lot of play recently, mostly in connection with politics. Robert De Niro, for example, shouted “Fuck Trump!” from the stage at this year’s Tony Awards. That event brought on a storm of controversy. Since Bob’s usage was anything but gratuitous, many outlets printed the word (as I just did) or said it out loud. The nut of the controversy, however, was not the word itself but the effectiveness of the usage. Many thought that throwing the F-bomb was counter-productive and gave Trump a rare chance to seize the high moral ground in our political discourse. Rather than winning support for De Niro’s sentiment, the epithet was dismissed by critics as simply cursing to the choir.

Last week another F-bomb dropped after the murder of five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. Trump (or at least his twitter feed) responded to the killings with boiler plate condolences about “our thoughts and prayers.” One survivor, apparently unimpressed, shot back that he "didn’t give a fuck” about the President’s thoughts and prayers. This usage hasn’t been critiqued in the same way, perhaps because it is not a direct ad hominem attack. Instead, it calls attention to the shameless hypocrisy of our leader, who regularly refers to the press as “enemies of the people.” The “f**k” in this case (if my outrage detector is functioning properly) was deemed acceptable.

I have tried to be scrupulous within this essay in the use of f**k and its derivatives. I wanted to hold the line against language that might offend you while exploring what the f**k is going on with the word fuck.

Maybe my effort is a waste of time. There was a time when uttering a public F-bomb would draw hard looks or even a punch in the nose. They’re raining down everywhere these days, and rarely get more than a shrug. Gratuitous usage has expanded into overuse. Even on news websites the word is used freely, particularly in sports sections. Sure, it’s vulgar, but it appears to have lost its status as an obscenity. So why try to keep the barn door closed if the f**k has already escaped?

I don’t know whether to lament the coarsening of our culture or celebrate our liberation from the taste nazis. I guess I will simply continue to walk the ever-shifting line between politeness common usage. At least I will be not participating in its overuse, which is an obscenity to me no matter what the word.

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon