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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #80, 2/4/2007

A Linguistic Analysis of "Fuck"

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

"Fuck" is one of the most interesting, widely used, useful and useless words in the English language. In some subcultures, it composes pretty much half of the spoken language, being employed as verb, noun, adverb, adjective, interjection and almost an article. In more erudite diction, the word is seen more as a powerful spice, like raw garlic or red-hot chiles, to be used only on very rare occasions for extraordinary emotional emphasis.

"Fuck" is generally considered a "dirty" word—probably the dirtiest—which is exactly why it is so widely used and essential to the language. It is the nuclear weapon of linguistics: just about as aggressive and violent as you can get with a single syllable. If we didn't have "fuck", we would invent another word that did the same thing.

What does "fuck" mean? That is not easily answered. On the surface, the word describes sexual intercourse, but as a shallow and aggressive act devoid of any affection. Every word is subject to ironic or comedic uses, so "fuck" can occasionally be employed in tender and funny ways, but at the primary level, it contains nothing gentle. "Fuck" is rape or pretty close to it. At the least, it is sexual exploitation, intended solely for the gratification of the speaker and with some implied damage to a victim.

You get a pretty good idea of what the word means by doing a Google image search for "fuck" with "SafeSearch Off." You won't find a lot of subtlety there.

However, the word refers directly to sexual intercourse only for a tiny portion of its utterances. More often, "fuck" is a content-free word that is used to express the speaker's anger, aggression or frustration. People use "fuck" when they feel boxed into a corner. If you are in control of the circumstances, then you don't need the word. When you feel powerless, that's when you start using "fucks" to try to assert some imaginary control.

As a general rule, people who use "fuck" a lot—like prisoners, gang members and adolescent youth—tend to have very little real control over their lives. "Fuck" is a linguistic trick to give their talk more apparent swagger and substance and make them feel more powerful. It is often accompanied by verbal threats of violence and sometimes real violence, which are both desperate devices to try to gain control. "Fuck" can be dangerous and should not be ignored, because it means that someone has reached the end of their linguistic arsenal, and physical aggression could be next.

Americans prefer to think of themselves as a classless society, but in fact there are some pretty clear distinctions along linguistic lines. If you take the number of "fucks" spoken by a person in their daily conversation and divide it by the total number of words they speak, you will come up with a stable fraction that could be called that person's "fuck quotient." Statistically, a high fuck quotient corresponds to low education, economic opportunity and social standing. In some inner-city neighborhoods, "fuck" may be one of the most-used words; in posh suburbs, it is hardly ever heard. Occasionally, people of high social standing will use "fuck" to indicate theatrically that they are street-wise, but a high fuck quotient usually signifies frustration and powerlessness. You wouldn't have to use it if you were respected and getting what you wanted.

In the real world, "fuck" must be respected, even if it is just a word. If you are involved in a debate with someone, and their side degenerates into a high density of fucks, it is usually best to withdraw. From a practical standpoint, the person who uses the most "fucks" in any argument automatically wins. It means that all illusion of rational debate has vanished and that any further intelligent argument is futile.

In practice, "fuck" is a blocking mechanism to prevent any further inquiry or debate, because once you've gone to the ultimate weapon, you can't go any further. Most kids know that when Mommy or Daddy goes to "fucks," things are serious, and they better run for cover. Many spouses knows this, too. Whatever you said, you better not say it again, because "fuck" means business.

It's just four letters. You ears aren't going to burn if you hear it, but the person who frequently uses it is often right on the edge, frustrated as hell with their own weakness and ready to explode. The word may be "obscene" but at least it gives you early warning of what may be coming at you.

—G.C.





Reader Comments

“FUCK means Fornicate Under Consent of King. Back in the day people were not allowed to be married unless they were property owners so the peasants had to have consent. That's the story I heard.” —DC 2/6/07

“Excessive use could be induced by frequency of others' use, not just a sign of your intelligence or lack there of.” —A Marine 5/25/07 (rating=2)

“let's kill comic sans.” — 7/6/07 (rating=3)

“what crap” —billy bob 9/15/07 (rating=0)

“wow thats pretty true... nice essay” —shezzy 9/25/07 (rating=4)

“I buy it!” — 10/31/07 (rating=4)

“whoisjt@gmail.com” —whoisjt@gmail.com 3/9/08 (rating=4)

“But is it art?” —male 23 5/30/08 (rating=3)

“check out the song 'nookie' from limp bizkit.. blows your mind after reading this...” — 10/1/08 (rating=4)

“priyankashandil@gmail.com” —priyankashandil@gmail.com 10/16/08 (rating=5)

“gud...provided me goood pck ov info” — 10/31/08 (rating=5)

“F U C K” —NJB 4/22/09 (rating=5)

“What a Fucking truth” —Furkerhythmic 6/2/09 (rating=3)

“Well thought out.” —Schmorzando 6/14/09 (rating=4)

“it have more meanings” — 8/24/09 (rating=2)

“This is a fucking essay” —Avimanyu 10/1/09 (rating=1)

“i love that word! "wtf" was a word i used in a email tring to be as professional as possible. about a year later, everyone wasw using it. did i start this trend? who knows. class and being incontrol hasnt a dame thing to do with the word-its just a great word with different meanings” — 2/28/10 (rating=4)

“interesting i thought it was agressive not intimate and when it was said to me” —female 7/11/10 (rating=3)

Ratings so far: 2 0 2 3 4 3 0 4 4 0 0 4 5 3 2 3 3 4 5 5 5 3 3 4 4 2 1 4 3 1 3 (Average=2.8)

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