I've been thinking about the F word and modern day usage. I've noticed some of the young people at the high school where I work don't notice that it falls from their lips continually, punctuating the most mundane of topics. They also are not concerned about adults around them, hearing them swear, particularly using this term with it's dual meaning of physical intimacy and a really raw deal. Similarly, the conundrum of a very tender male body part and the insult used to indicate severe stupidity.... But I digress.
Back to the F word, culture and teen obliviousness. Perhaps it's inevitable, as language evolves (twittering as web 2.0 phenomenon, not bird noises; googling as searching, not staring with wide eyes) and changes (apparently "sick" is back to meaning "good" or "great", but perhaps that has shifted again.) I remember in elementary schools (late 60s or early 70s), chastised by my mother for using the word "kid". "Kids are baby goats.", she informed me imperiously. By middle school she was probably using "kid" to describe a child.
I don't recall when it happened, a few years back perhaps, when the F word started appearing (regularly) in the New Yorker. The New Yorker for heaven's sake! The E.B. White and Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker. The magazine stacked in the living room of my childhood home. The New Yorker I would pour through as a kid, reading the cartoons and ignoring most everything else. Perhaps the New Yorker can not be held responsible for the trend of folks using the F word as easily ad unselfconsciously as "Oh shoot" or "Dang". Which reminds me, my mother didn't like us (the kids) using "god" as in "God, Mom" (whilst rolling eyes heavenwards) because of the taking the lords name in vain thing.
My daughter first used the F word in front of me several years ago. Perhaps she was still in 7th or 8th grade? It slipped out one afternoon. Maybe we were driving home from school, she in the back seat. "F***" she said, exasperated about something. I was surprised, stunned really. But curious and slightly amused, not parentally mad. After a brief pause, I said her name with a question, looking over my shoulder. "Oh mom, I'm sorry. I usually just say that inside my head.", which had me cracking up in my own head at the thought of my prep school straight arrow daughter swearing a blue streak internally.
I just finished reading Dave Eggers' autobiographical novel "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". On the last page (of the paperback edition - # 437 actually) only half-filled with text, eleven of the words are some variation of the F word (adverbs and acts involving a maternal parent). And it is entirely appropriate and moving within the context of the story, writing style, voice, etc. Plus the book is nearly 10 years old (and still selling, congratulations David!). So, they don't really stand a chance, do they? The teens who mill around the boarding school mail room undeterred by my middle-aged maternal presence, exclaiming that this or that is so f-ing boring or f-ing unfair or what are they f-ing going to do this weekend.