I work for a software-development company, and things are generally pretty loose around here. Basically, every day is Casual Friday. And there's this sense that you can say or do anything as long as it's not too outrageous. But in a planning meeting I was part of a couple of weeks ago, I accidentally used the word "fucking" in a non-sexual way, and there was an audible gasp from someone sitting at the table. She used to be my supervisor, but I changed jobs within the company, and now she's just a co-worker of mine. But that didn't keep her from stopping by my cubicle later that day and having a little chat with me about my language. What she told me was that if I kept talking like that it was going to be difficult for me to climb the corporate ladder.
I apologized, of course. What else could I do? But the more I thought about it afterwards, the madder I got. First of all, it was truly a mistake. Second of all, it's just not that bad a word. I can certainly think of a lot worse ones. But I'm wondering what you would make of all this. Should I be sent to Language Jail for using the F-word?
Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones: Send you to Language Jail? F**k that! If the vice-president of the United States, one Richard B. Cheney, can use the F-word on the floor of the United States Senate, as he did in 2004 when Senator Patrick Leahy asked him about Halliburton's contracts in Iraq, then it's hard for me to imagine a place where you shouldn't use it, with the possible exception of church. For the fact is, the F-word, which long ruled as the King of All Cuss Words, the one that had your mom racing to the bathroom for a bar of soap, is on the decline. And by that I mean it gets used in mixed company so often these days that it's starting to lose its power. For instance, on "Deadwood," HBO's potty-mouthed Western, it gets used 1.48 times per minute.
And we know that because someone was fup-ucked enough to count the number of times, then post it on the web, complete with ten-minute breakdowns. But they needn't have bothered, because we're going to be hearing a lot more of the F-word in the coming years, each instance sapping its strength a little more, until all that's left is a word that means "darn" or "very," as in "Darn you!" or "That's very awesome!" Still, I have to hand it to the F-word, it's had a long, noble reign. I can remember a time when it had as much power as the N-word. At Woodstock, when Country Joe and the Fish led the crowd in a rousing round of "Give me an F! Give me a U! Give me a C! Give me a K! What's that spell?" it actually meant something. It meant "American Establishment, do unmentionable things to yourself."
Today, thanks to the '60s, rappers and the Internet, those things are all mentionable. Yes, the FCC will still charge you $7,000 if you utter the F-word over the public airwaves, but it used to charge $12,500, and how much more proof do you need that the word is being devalued? Eventually, it won't cost you a thing to shout "@#!%" all day long at the top of your lungs. But I have to believe that, by the time that day comes, we'll have found another word that nobody will be able to use without stiff penalties. I don't know, we just seem to like to set aside certain words, endow them with special powers. They're "The Words That Shall Not Be Used." And I can't wait until we land on the next one so I can let it slip at staff meetings.
If you see Kay, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.