Remember when the f word used to be bad? It was the word that earned Ralphie a mouthful of soap in A Christmas Story. It was, as Ralphie put it, "The mother of all dirty words. The f dash-dash-dash word."
Well, not so much anymore, folks. Our society has become a bunch of potty mouths, because the word for unlawful carnal knowledge is so ingrained in our modern culture that it's openly used in public and on TV as a verb, adjective, adverb, noun and anything else we can get away with grammatically. On a recent edition of Hell's Kitchen, I counted the f word bleeped out no less than 15 times in only one minute, and most of them weren't coming out of Gordon Ramsey's mouth, but those of the contestants.
I mentioned to my mother the other day that one of the reasons I like Mad Men so much is because there's virtually no swearing in it, particularly the f bomb. No matter how agitated the characters get, you don't hear them telling someone to f off. She said, "That's because we didn't say it back then (in the 60s)! It was a bad word and you didn't hear anyone making it a part of regular daily conversation." And when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s, who could ever imagine a hit pop song having the f word in the title or lyrics? Yet that's exactly what happened to Cee Lo Green with his now iconic up yours aria "F*** You." OK, I'll admit it, I loved this contagious hit as much as anyone else (and its censored twin, "Forget You", just didn't have the same impact) but the first time I listened to it I was a little embarrassed. Worst of all, I see the f-bomb regularly dropped on Facebook by some of my Gen Y connections. C'mon kids, wouldn't your parents be ashamed?
So what the f--I mean, heck, happened? I've really noticed the change in movie and television dialogue during the past 15 years. There's some debate as to when the f word was first used on the big screen. According to Roger Ebert's book Questions from the Movie Answerman, it was first said in a movie during the 1930s; however, some people think Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? and Midnight Cowboy both opened the doors for the f word to be freely used. Today it's pretty rare to watch a film that doesn't use it, but it's the ones who overuse it that bother me. Nothing annoys me more than when every other word in a string of dialogue is the f word. Unless it's truly appropriate to the character, it's a sign to me that the screenwriter is low class and frankly, unimaginative. It has actually caused me to stop watching a DVD or two when it's relentless.
Please know that I'm no prude--it's not like I never say or write the word. However, I try to reserve it for the appropriate time and place, if you know what I mean. You've probably noticed that I've never written it, to the best of my knowledge, on this blog, and I would NEVER say it at the office or in a professional environment, or with people I barely know. I wonder how many kids get away with saying it in school. Back in my day, saying the word out loud in class would earn you a one-way ticket to the principle's office.
The f word's popularity in current pop culture means that it's also lost its shock value. Think about it--are we really shocked anymore when we hear it? Now that it's no longer a big deal, the question is what will take its place as the mother of all swear words? Maybe I don't want to know, but it's amazing that a word with roots dating back to 1475 enjoyed its profane reputation up until about 10 years ago. I guess we all need to keep those bars of soap handy.