After I had written the following reflection on the most unprintable word in the English language, I didn’t really know what to do with it.  Wondering what the reaction of decent people would be, I sent it to the Catholic editors at MercatorNet because I have a great deal of respect for them and their publication.  It was Mr. Cook’s suggestion that I delete my imaginings about the onomatopeic origin of the word. (You are going to have to do your own imagining.)I wondered if I should just deep-six it.  He was kind enough to write:  “I don’t want to shun the topic, but I feel that we need something a bit different. Sorry to disappoint. Best regards and I am full of admiration for your amazing blog….I think that it would go quite well on the blog. The blog is more personal and represents you rather than an institution. Don’t deep-six it.”

And so:


Some years ago a doctor friend told me about a couple who sought his advice about a child with a speech problem.   It seems the little fellow loved to play with his trucks but was not yet speaking very clearly.  They were comfortable with most of his mispronunciations but the boy would consistently mispronounce “truck” so that it came out “fuck.”  Now, as I spell out that word, first an f, then a u, then c, and then k, I can foresee that some editor will start to tear out his hair trying to figure out what to do with the result.  It is not, after all, one of the forbidden words in proper society.  It is only a child’s mispronunciation of truck, not intended to be naughty, or offend, or breech any societal construct.  It is just an arrangement of letters.   Can it be that certain letters of the alphabet cannot be juxtaposed without offending?  As I type on my computer, is some bot going to come along and censor me?  Listen up, bot!  I’m not swearing!  I’m talking toddler talk!  Leave me alone!

Of course, as the doctor told me, the problem was not with the child but with the parents.  Why could they not allow him this growing stage?  Can there really be combinations of letters which are not allowable?  So, he said, “See my fuck”, and “My fuck drives here,” and “My fuck fell down.” So what? It was the parents’ fear that the child’s language might reflect badly on them that was the problem.  They found themselves unable to let their boy’s speech mature in due time–and if he spent his whole life saying fuck in stead of truck, what’s the big deal?   If there is any blame it is in the ear of the listener who brings to a child’s innocent speech his own hang-ups.

From whence comes this fascination with “fuck?  I don’t really know the origin of the word but my guess is that it is one of those onomatopeic words that  sound like what they portray.   Your guess is as good as mine.

It is generally agreed that comedians who rely on four letter words are getting cheap laughs.  The really good comedians  use humor, not profanity.  Some actors feel that slipping in a forbidden word, almost by accident, is a way of getting attention, and any attention is better than none.  I recently attended a play in which the actress, playing Katharine Hepburn, who reportedly used some strong language, slipped in a fuck along with a naughty look and got the expected titter from the audience who enjoyed being naughty along with her.

In certain venues you expect the language to be crass or vulgar, and you can go or stay away, according to your preference.  I suspect that when some celebrities slip and  utter a naughty word on a respectable daytime show they are not as much slipping as using it as an opportunity to create a buzz and get a little more attention than they could  with anything they might have to say.

Once when I was in jail (it is easy to get there if you refuse to move  or give your name) an inmate emerged from the shower and walked down the corridor announcing to her friends along the way “I fucking shaved my fucking legs.”  I had to laugh at the sheer idiocy of her statement!  It was nothing but an effort by an immature woman to appear cool and “with it” to her peers, most of whom couldn’t speak English if they tried.   Obviously, it made no sense whatsoever.

On the one hand, it is totally stupid that there should be any arrangement  of letters of the alphabet that one is not permitted to write or pronounce.  The F-bomb, as they like to refer to it, is said to be the least printable and most vulgar word in the English language.  On the other hand, it is equally idiotic that grown-up, supposedly mature people should think it is cute or cool to get off on using such a forbidden word several times in every sentence in a totally meaningless fashion.  You’d think they were two-year-olds playing in feces.   Or  a four-year-old saying pee-pee, poop, wee-wee, ca-ca — delighting in using bathroom words in the parlor. It is like George Carlin running through his seven dirty words, going from bad to worse, rubbing them in, like a naughty child.    It is juvenile.  It is dumb.

In an obvious play for attention Britney Spears attempted a come-back with her new album, Circus, containing the popular single If U Seek Amy.  It was #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 when I looked it up  and reputedly had been downloaded over 100,000 times.  Don’t be fooled by the inocuous sounding title.  She is spelling out  F-me which many find daring and titillating.  They are like children with a secret code that grown-ups will never be able to crack.  If truth were told, grown-ups can’t be bothered.

On the day before Mothers’ Day this year President Obama succeeded in being quite funny in his opening address at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It was apparent that the joke that tickled him most was when they said it was a tough day for Rahm Emanuel because Rahm was not used to saying the word Day after Mother!  Even as president he delighted in displaying  just a hint of the bad little boy in him.

Think about it.   Think about someone you really respect.  Does s/he talk like that?  Perhaps those who sprinkle their conversation with F-words are trying to be cool or funny.  Does it work?  They seem to be somehow stunted, or, as the song says, “more to be pitied than censored.”  They are like naughty little boys who are trying to be cute or get a rise out of mommy.  It doesn’t work.  You just want to say:   Get a life.  Get a real sense of humor.  Get a vocabulary.  GROW UP!


On further reflection,it occurred to me that the only other word I have heard of that cannot be said was the holy name of God in ancient Hebrew.  Yahweh was written YHWH because in those days they did not write the vowels. When scripture was being read aloud and they came upon the word YHWH they would pronounce Adonai instead. This was a respectful, reverential thing.  God’s name was just too holy to be spoken.

On the other hand, it seems to me there is an unholy word used by those who do not love God.  It is to be spoken as often as possible, whether or not it makes sense, in a defiant, in-your-face way. It makes a mockery – it defiles, degrades, profanes – the most intimate, sacred, loving, life-giving union of which human beings are capable.  The very meaning of “to profane” is to debase something which is holy.

I do not recognize that word as anything special. The F-bomb is a dud — it has no real power. It is only a word, like shag, screw or hump. Don’t make a fool of yourself, thinking it has shock value. It is only crude. It is boring. It has very little place in intelligent discourse. GROW UP!


A really excellent blogpost on why the F-word is tantalizing.


What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’  –Matthew 15:11