Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ef Word*

*parental discretion advised

I've thought about how to bring this up--and on a rainy, gloomy day, why not.

The first time I read the word "fuck" I think I was in middle school. A precocious reader, I first came across it Catcher in the Rye, but never bothered to look it up. I read it again maybe a few months later at Christmas. Dad got a book from Mom and since I'd read all the books given to me for Christmas I picked up his, The Summer of '42, about a group of friends, boys, who have one last summer before going off to World War II. It isn't a summer of innocence. I believe the book was a movie tie-in. One of the boys has a last fling with a neighbor lady who is missing her husband or sex or maybe wants to "help" the young man before he leaves. The plot was a one-night stand, about the time it took to read the book. But what really hit me was the word f--- used not as a strong curse word or boys shooting off their mouths in the schoolyard but as a VERB.

That shocked me.

Then I went downstairs and pointed it out to my dad, saying I think they got this wrong. What I meant was was that I thought it was anachronistic--out of place for time period. You see, I thought kids MY AGE had come up with that word. Well, Dad put me in my place. His generation came up with that word.


Now-a-days you can see it in print fairly common. In Going Bovine by Libba Bray it was everywhere--like spilled milk, flowing thru the pages. In pg-13 movies it's standard dialog--'cause ya know young kids are just punks and can't really talk all proper! I find the ef word mostly a weak devise, non-literary, and inane in its overuse.

But to be fair, I've HAD to use it myself.

When I have, I try to be very thoughtful and judicious. Is it there for a reason, to set a character, to make a pt.? (I mean rarely does it move the plot along, so I'm not giving it that much significance.) It can either stop a reader or pull them forward.

Language is pretty important to me, words are the bones that hold my story up, so I think about them a lot. I let swear words and most words flow when I'm laying down a first draft, but eventually I'll go back and give them all a second look, and 9 times out of 10 the ef word will get edited out. Not always. I said judiciously, not prudiciously.

If there are readers of my blog out there--and there must be a few as I'm getting about 200 hits a month (I use a setting that doesn't track my own views--haha)--can you tell me about your experience first time reading the ef word or as writers how you decide to use/incorporate it into your writing. Thanks!


Sheila said...

I was in high school during the early 1960s and don't even remember ever hearing anyone say "fuck." So the first time I encountered the word at all was when I read CATCHER IN THE RYE. I remember realizing that it had to be a bad word, but I didn't look it up--probably because I'd already found our dictionary's definition of "rape" to be way too vague. I wouldn't ask either of my parents since my dad never swore, at least in my hearing, and although my mother had a "colorful" vocabulary, I must have decided the word had to be really bad if she didn't use it. Hard to believe I led such a sheltered life! Now the characters in the middle-grade books I write must at least be aware of this word. It's been around for a long time -- CATCHER was published in 1951! And what a powerful word it remains -- but only in print. Verbal overuse has weakened it, but in print (in a book for kids under 10) it'll knock the book off library shelves. So my latest book for ages 10 to 14 does not contain the "F" word although any kid will know that when T.J.'s mother's boyfriend "swears," he is using it.

Jane said...

I like the subtlety and creativity a writer needs to employ in order to AVOID using the ef word, though there are times it is utterly necessary
use it like an adverb