Transgressive speech only works, rhetorically, so long as it’s, well… transgressive.
Case in point: my grandmother wouldn’t say the word “hell” because it was unladylike. Gently mocking her own delicacy, she even called helicopters “naughty-copters.” If she ever did use the words “hell” or “damn,” it was like a Cat 6 Storm Warning from the Met Bureau — look out! Because it meant she was really, seriously angry. Angry enough to transgress her own rules of polite behaviour. How the heck do we signify that we’re seriously angry, if we’re routinely romping across the farther borders of speech etiquette in casual daily usage?
I have to agree that the word ‘fuck’ has always been phonemically satisfying (explosive to say, emphatic, punchy) but semantically I’ve always had problems with it as a cuss word. Lenny Bruce asked years ago, in plaintive naivete or faux-naivete, why “fuck you” is a mean and nasty thing to say to someone. Surely it should be a nice thing to say to someone, he said. I mean, sex is nice, right? Shouldn’t “fuck you” really mean “I love you?” or at least “I like you?”
But our use of the word ‘fuck’ and related terms like ‘that sucks’ and ‘cocksucker’ and ‘douche bag’ — not to mention ‘cunt’ and ‘prick’ and ‘beee-yatch’ and so on — reveal that despite our alleged modernity and sexual liberation we are still deeply mired in misogyny, in body-hatred, in an antiquated patriarchal warrior culture. That culture equates maleness with penetration with domination, sex with penetration with domination with contempt for the ‘receptive’ party, penises with power, vaginas with filth and disgust and fear, femaleness and gayness with loser-ness (not-male-ness)… well, we all grew up in it so you know what I’m talking about, that whole toxic tangle of many millennia of patriarchal, ummm, well, mind-fuck. See what I mean?
So my $0.02 is that not only is our enthusiastic adoption of the F-bomb boring, repetitive and uncreative (just re-visit Shakespeare to get some idea of how creative, interesting, and artistic cussing and ranting could be in Elizabethan times!), now only does overuse weaken its rhetorical impact… it’s also an unexamined tribute to old and oppressive ideas that we are, in other ways, trying to challenge. In the era of #MeToo when we are trying once again to get rid of BoyzWillBeBoyz (TM) and slut-shaming and droit du seigneur and all that drek, we’re still thoughtlessly saying “fuck you” and “fuck Trump” and accepting without reflection that fucking someone equals hating them, shaming them, putting them down, harming them, dismissing them, mocking them, threatening them… etc. And until we untangle that millennia-old linguistic/cognitive mess, how can we expect young men to think that sex (whether straight or gay) is anything other than a competitive sport (at best) or a war (at worst) in which the fucker aims to defeat and dominate the fuckee?
If we are to take rape seriously as a crime against persons (not against other men’s property, for example, or divine laws against sex generally), maybe we should be listening harder to our casual use of “fuck” and what it implies. A very dear old radical friend of mine used to say that liberal well-meaning white folks would never dream of going around using “lynch” as a casual cuss word… I mean obviously, because of all its tragic, heartbreaking, ugly, evil baggage. No one in their right mind would yell “lynch you, man,” or “lynch that.”
And yet, despite the fact that the aggressive, combative, hostile interpretation of “fuck” — i.e. forcible rape with intent to harm and humiliate — has been happening to women for millennia, we still toss the word around lightly with all its aggression and contempt intact. It’s not like we’ve reclaimed it or softened it. We’ve just taken our patriarchal belief system about what fuck really means (war, domination, hatred) and brought it right out in the open; as long as “fuck” remains a casual cuss word, as long as it still means “I hate you” and not “I like you,” we’re not feeling good about sex, and we’re still not feeling justice towards women.
If we want an equally satisfying explosive cuss word starting with F that sounds Anglo-Saxon and expresses anger, describes something indubitably nasty that really ought to be cursed, how about we start saying frack?
Frack you. Frack that. Not frackin’ likely.
Works for me. At least fracking is demonstrably vile: filthy, harmful, murderous, corrupt, stupid, and worthy in every way of our contempt. Which sex, including heterosexual sex, including men seeking a better and healthier sexual headspace, really shouldn’t be. What the frack do you think of that, eh?