The F-word

Call me old-fashioned, but I hate the way so many people, young and old, seem to be using the F-word in every sentence. It’s used as a noun, a verb, and most commonly, as an adjective. I hear it on the streetcar when the person sitting behind me is talking on her cell phone. I hear it when a group of students passes me in the hall. I read it on a blog written by a mid-level crime writer.  Not only do I find the word offensive — to me, it’s like verbal littering —  but I instantly think of the user as crude, common, vulgar and disrespectful of those around him or her. It seems that a lot of people use it without thinking and it has pretty much come to mean the same as “very”.

At Bouchercon, a major North American crime writing convention that I attended recently in San Francisco, a writer who won an award in absentia had left an acceptance speech for the presenter to read in the event he (the writer) won the award. This particular writer  did win and the presenter duly read the message to a ballroom full of sophisticated, middle aged, educated writers and readers. And every sentence contained at least one F-word. I was appalled and had I been the presenter, I would have refused to read such a vile, stupid acceptance message. The audience squirmed a little and cringed a lot. Did it have shock value? Probably, but so what?  I did not catch the winner’s name but that’s fine as I have no desire to read his work.

When did the use of the F-word become acceptable in polite society? It used to be considered extremely strong language and as such, carried extreme weight. It would get your listener’s attention. You recognized instantly that the person saying it meant business. Now, it means little or nothing because it is so overused.

I choose not to use it in the books I write because my characters don’t need to say it. That’s just not who they are. In most cases, I would not read a book in which the narrator or characters use the F-word. I would not find the characters likeable and would not care what they do or what happens to them. However, the exception to this is Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast. Some of his characters are former IRA killers and for them to use the F-word seems appropriate and acceptable. The word adds emphasis and meaning to the dialogue. I mentioned this to Stuart when I met him at Bouchercon. He said wait until you read (his second book) Collusion. A character in that book takes swearing to the level of a fine art. And I can’t wait to read it because the brilliance of his writing overshadows everything else.

So I’m ok with the F-word sometimes. But just not when it’s every other f-ing word.

And call me old-fashioned, but I can’t even bring myself to spell it out!

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6 thoughts on “The F-word

  1. Well I do find myself using the f-word when I am lazy…however,as I have been working with small children I have had to use my imagination instead of swearing…

  2. Whew! Had to read all the way through to assure all in the pasture that the F word did not refer to ‘flock’. When they calmed down the young pestered for what the ‘f’ word was to which CBF was referring. Esme said the word is ‘frolicking’ and they were content. But not the sort of frolic to which the young are accustomed but fortunately we will have time to prepare before they return to ask ‘is there more than one sort of ‘frolic’. Another day another worry.

  3. I totally agree with you with the use of the F-word. I enjoy reading your books and agree that your characters do not need to use the word. I will agree that it fits for some books. I teach The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and in the setting of Viet Nam, it is vital to the characters who say it. Only O’Brien doesn’t overuse it. I am reading A Brush With Death, having just finished The Cold Light of Mourning and love Penny Brannigan. I can’t wait until the next book.

    • Thank you for your kind words and I’m so pleased you like Penny. The next book comes out fall, 2011, and is called A Killer’s Christmas in Wales. I agree the f-word does fit in some books. I loved Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast, which was so forceful and tightly written that I barely noticed it, but as with O’Brien, it was appropriate for his characters, who were former IRA killers.

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