The Gentrification of Cuss Words

Cuss words, the F-word, in particular, has undergone rapid gentrification over the last few years. Just as improving a house or district to conform to middle-class taste can force some people out of the neighborhood, I notice some non-swearing folks are feeling marginalized.

Making an activity seemingly more refined or polite imposes forced palatability. That’s what seems to be happening as the everyday use of obscenities is becoming increasingly en vogue.

I was on a conference call recently with a businessman who was obviously a nerd in stature and temperament. He is educated, very smart, and has the potential to be quite successful; and he should know better. Our conversation was going along smoothly when all of a sudden—out of the blue—he dropped an F-bomb which he then repeatedly grenade launched at me throughout the conversation as if it was a simple game of badminton.

As he shelled me with incendiary verbal devices, each one was ablaze in my brain, and the noise drowned out all other words.

When someone uses the F-word in this way, it’s as if he is saying: “Hey, look at me! I’m not prim and proper, and I’m definitely not traditional or conservative. I’m a loose cannon. I am cool enough to smoke Marlboro’s in a 1960’s magazine advertisement.”

We’ve redefined cool. We’ve replaced the smoking jacket with the smoking gun of profanity; the cowboy image with the crass street thug.

Using the F-word in conversation is also like saying, “Hey, you should like me because I’m tough and fearless. I’m better than you because you can’t say it, and even if you did, I already said it first which makes me automatically cooler. I already raised the bar with my brave use of forbidden words, so for you to be initiated into my gang, you might have to kill someone… But I’m still top dog because I said the F-word first.”

Oh, the power that peer pressure has on me. I can’t help but thinking, “Wow, I’m so enamored by you. I’m so influenced, Mr. Cool Guy. I’m swooning because I secretly wish I could swear like a sailor too. Alas, I am only half the man you are.”

Using the F-bomb does not make you “one of the gang,” unless it is a gang of looters. Using the F-word still makes most people sound like posers. It makes you look like a copycat who lacks the originality to find the right word.

What happens when the F-word becomes so overused that it loses its impact due to desensitization? My nerdy friend will need to use the word more and more just to maintain his current level of machismo.

“That fracking guy. If he fracks up one more fracking time, I am going to have to fracking hit him so fracking hard he fracking breaks through the fracking window.”

That’s enough fracking to discover an entirely new oil reserve.

Yet, curse words are becoming more commonplace than ever. Netflix can’t create a comedy without a constant stream of four-letter words highlighting every lame punchline. We hear profanity in coffee shops, from our relatives and coworkers. Even grandma uses naughty to get a rise.

It is now perfectly healthy. And if you don’t agree, you’re behind the times.

Your boss throws the words around like crumpled up pieces of paper to cubicle employees. Perhaps without a tie on, it’s the only way your boss knows how to boss. If we’re lucky, he’ll add a bit of flair and redden his face to appear stern and authoritative.

Good for you, tough guy.

It’s all ridiculous and empty posturing.

An expletive is a word or phrase that serves to fill out a sentence without adding to the sense. Obscenities lack real meaning or value. They are filler words that don’t have a soul because they are an empty void.

They are worse than um, uh, and even, like, like, because they also can simultaneously make our ancestors roll over in their graves.

It might’ve been groundbreaking the first time George Carlin used it in his 7 Words You Never Say On Television standup comedy act. He was breaking a social convention on purpose to make a point.

George Carlin used dirty words so excessively that he quickly shocked an audience into laughing. His point was that we have made these words into things that have the power to create anxiety when they should not. He was just like many artists trying to help us become more free of oppression.

Maybe we can give him a pass for originality.

Regardless, YOU are not George Carlin. He already claimed that identity, and it is no longer available.

How is it that this original comedian can drop profanity bombs to uproarious laughter, and yet many present-day comedians use the F-word and simply bomb? Was it really the F-word that made people laugh, or was it something else?

What makes a bad word bad? What is the history behind it that creates connotations that eventually influence denotations, or literal definitions, and give us the idea that we should not be saying something or thinking something?

These are all questions that come to my mind every time you use the F-word in front of me.

I think it is fascinating how we can take words that had perfectly good and proper meanings with useful denotations and pervert them into “dated and offensive.”

As an example, the word that means delayed, slowed, or held back in terms of progress, development, or learning, can no longer be used. The R-word was a perfectly good word to describe a situation based on fact. Now it is forbidden, since too many idiots added an abusive and hateful emotion behind the word, proving that not only does our language evolve, but we can inadvertently destroy it merely by being careless and callous.

Yet, we are all perfectly fine with the fact that we took one of the most taboo words in English, F**k, that was purposefully and intentionally a vulgar slang amplifying the worst possible things about the darkest parts of our nature, and converted it into a fun-loving addition to our verbal family. Not only is F**k acceptable in my generation, but our kids are also learning that they can say it without consequence.

Well, that’s just retarded. And by that I mean our progress as a society is retarded by a lack of thoughtfulness.

In fact, once one uses the F-word enough times, one becomes desensitized to it. I know, I achieved this magical state at some point in my 20s. I felt pretty cool for a while; as if I was wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette whilst smugly grinning at all the sheep who haven’t the guts to get expelled.

But then one day you accidentally say it in front of somebody that you really didn’t want to, like a small child or a nun. And that still small voice in your head goes, “Yeah, you try to convince us that it’s OK, but we don’t really believe you do we?”

Perhaps this hits a little too close to home for you, and you think I am a prude. I only have one question for you that acts as a litmus test for this entire topic:

If someone came to your house and started cussing around your four-year-old daughter, how would you feel?

If you wouldn’t expose those fearful thoughts, ideas, and obscenities to your precious angel, then why would you let those things into your own mind and out of your mouth to others?

Before you let careless renovations move vulgarity into your neighborhood, consider who you might be alienating. The solution is simple; grab a fracking dictionary to find a better fracking word.

F-Bomb’s Away
F-Bomb’s Away

About the author

Featured in CNN Money Edition, Jesse Stoddard’s primary aim is to make his mark in the world by exploring new ideas, enhancing collaboration and cooperation with teams, and working in his unique ability, which is transferring infectious enthusiasm, taking action, and loving people in order to gather and connect with others to pursue a bigger, brighter future.

Jesse’s mission is to make good bolder with his writing and art, to serve God, and in such a way that he illuminates truth, shines a humorous light on our human imperfections, and reminds us all to be humble while pointing us to what’s right.