The F Word

SpeakingRegarding the four letters c, f, k, and u which, when combined in a certain order, are believed to “infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war,” according to George Carlin …

On July 13, 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC’s 2004 guidelines and penalties for fleeting expletives were vague and violated the First Amendment. Read the Washington Post report.

These film clips (which some may find objectionable) come from 2005 film, produced and directed by Steve Anderson, F**K – A Documentary. They include:

  1. Statements about the word’s origins and etymology by leading linguists and historians.
  2. Brief profiles of two pioneers of free speech and enlightened attitudes regarding words and symbols, comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin
  3. Supreme Court rulings about the word in the context of free speech.
  4. Attempts by the FCC to regulate usage of the word over public airwaves.
  5. A summary of different perspectives and points of view.

We should remember that every word, every symbol, every sign or logo, was created by humans, is used by humans, and its meaning is determined by humans each and every time it is used. There is no such thing as inherent meaning of terms or symbols. We should differentiate between definitions of words (the history of how they’ve been used) vs. the meaning of a word used in a specific context at a particular time by individual(s) speakers and listeners.

Sometimes we can learn a lot about our attitudes toward language generally by closely examining the extremes of language, such as language generally considered to be ‘profane’ or ‘obscene’. Of course, one of the lessons we just can’t seem to learn is the importance of context — which is why comedians like George Carlin and Chris Rock can exploit that pathology in routines like these.

Read my column, “Why must a federal case be made out of using bad words?” published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in November 2008.

From my published commentary on “A Fence Sieve Language”:

The hip-hop world took a lot of the collateral damage from the initial Imus bomb, to the extent that rap/hip-hop icon and impresario Russell Simmons co-authored a statement that read, “We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words bitch and ho” as well as “a common racial epithet.” As if bleeping accomplishes anything other than calling attention to itself and, by extension, what got bleeped. If one thinks through the logical consequences of bleeping, one comes full circle to the realization that it’s the context, not the word, that establishes the basis for offense. Even without benefit of visually observing the following phrases spoken, do you have any doubt as to what the “bleep” stands for?

“I said drop your bleeping gun!”

“Go bleep yourself.”

“Get the bleep out of here.”

“You dirty son of a bleep!”

“This tastes so bleeping good …”

[Download the PDF or read “A Fence Sieve Language” online.]

Where is Obscenity? (5:50)

This doesn’t relate specifically to the f word … or does it?