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Should we give a f*** about the F-word

The beauty of the swear word is also the fact that no one knows its correct etymology, but it's been around for centuries.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2012 17:27 IST
Jairaj Singh
Jairaj Singh
Hindustan Times

I think I must have been in Class 6 when I first said the word 'fuck'. I guess I have not stopped repeating it since. It was around this time that I asked my father what the word really meant, and I remember him telling me -- he was driving and I was in the back seat -- that "it's used as an euphemism for... nothing". We had not discussed the subject of birds and bees till then and I suppose it didn't deem him fit to give me an introduction or definition to sex with the word fuck at the helm of our conversation. We left it at that.

From the very start, I knew deep within that it was a frowned-upon thing; a taboo; a bad, inappropriate, foul, vile, vulgar word not to be used in front of parents, teachers, public or elders. Ironically, this is what made it cool and popular for my generation, and the generation before that, and the one before that. Today it is easily the most universally recognised and exploited word in the English vocabulary, despite being one of the most controversial. The effect it has had on me over the years is not short of tremendous catharsis.

Embarrassingly so, the first time I was caught by my parents for saying 'fuck' out loud was beyond my control. One morning during summer holidays, I must have been in Class 9 back from boarding school, my folks were livid when I woke up. They asked me whether I was having a bad dream. I said no. Looking somewhat impatient, they told me that I had been screaming the word at the top of my lungs early in the morning, and must have repeated it at least three times. I was mortified. My parents didn't seem amused either.

The first time I heard my father say the word was when the power cut in Gurgaon lasted for more than six hours at a stretch one summer, then the lights came back for a minute, and went off again. The next time I heard him repeat that words was years later when his eyes fell upon a report card of mine, which had arrived in the post.

When fuck officially became a constant in my day-to-day speech, almost everyone in the day school I attended in Delhi was dropping it like the proverbial F-bomb. It was so cool, there was no escaping it; you heard it in the corridors, football ground, school bus, scribbled on toilet walls, scratched on classroom desks, at the back of textbooks, and sometimes even carved on trees. Where ever you looked, the word was synomously etched, the epithet of our times.

What I liked the most about 'fuck' is that it is the one and only cuss word today that has maintained literary merit and distinction. The first time I read it was in JD Salinger's. A Catcher in the Rye, but I later found it in DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and James Joyce's Ullysses. Long before my time these very books were banned and controversial, but today they are taught in schools and universities across cultures and languages.

The word is also beautifully versatile, fluid and incandescent; it is like a powerful magic word broken and displaced from a bygone spell. Or as someone says, it sounds exactly what it means. Fuck! It can be said in a hundred ways to describe a thousand things. According to Wikipedia, fuck can also be used as verb, adverb, adjective, imperative, interjection and noun. It comes punctuated with an exclamation; it means business.

The beauty of the word is also the fact that no one knows its correct etymology, but it's been around for centuries: some say it has German roots, and some say it comes from the year 1475 in a poem titled Flen Flyys, which is written in a mix of English and Latin. Others claim it is an acronym for 'fornication under consent of king'. Whatever it might be, it's acknowledged as vulgar slang for copulation, unfit for speech and print, including this paper -- but does the word really hurt anybody?

We're living in strange times, where it's easier to find a picture of a naked woman than to write a full page with pen and paper. Children today are more exposed to risqué, ribald tongue and imagery than what our grandparents perhaps came across in their entire lifetime. Our language and daily speech, too, has changed in texture and metamorphosed into a new culture; 'fuck' no longer has the shock value. There will come a time not too far from now, when no one will give a fuck if you say fuck or not.

First Published: Oct 06, 2012 17:13 IST