The Rise & Fall of The F Bomb

by: Mark Budman

An argument in opposition to the overemployment of the “F-Bomb,” a word that “no longer functions as a pejorative or slur, but merely as a filler now”…

Back in the eighties, I was watching one of the first ever English-language movies I had ever seen and a character in the film was playing what he described as a “fucking guitar.” Another character inquired if the guitar was special due to the expletive employed in depicting the instrument. “No,” the character replied. “It’s a regular guitar.”

I thought at the time, Why the extraneous word? I wondered if maybe my understanding of English, a language that was new to me at the time, wasn’t as rich as I thought.

Fast-forward to today and I’m reading a fairly recent issue of New York Magazine and it seems like every interview, even one featuring United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), is just full of F-bombs. Is that just how people talk now, and the media just follows suit as it’s obligated to do, in writing what we say? The deeper question, however, is why do we talk like that in the first place? It used to be that an F-bomb was a sign of either low intellect or poor vocabulary, or both. Or maybe its use was withheld and utilized more for its shock value.

Psychologists Kristin Jay and Timothy Jay of Marist College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts came up with the hypothesis that people who are well-versed in curse words are more likely to have a greater overall language fluency as well. This is a much misunderstood study on the relationship between swear words and intelligence and its existence lends the false impression that people who curse may have better vocabularies. To fully understand this misconception it is is important to look at how the study was conducted. The Jay’s study had participants recite aloud as many curse or taboo words that they could think of in sixty seconds. A total of forty-three participants were recruited from introductory psychology courses at a small liberal arts college and compensated with research participation credits. Their ages ranged from eighteen to twenty-years years old.

Putting aside the small sample size, the background and the tender age of the participants, this study somehow missed the point. The study concluded that “the ability to generate taboo language is not an index of overall language poverty,” while suggesting thattaboo word fluency is correlated with general fluency,” and their use is “correlated with neuroticism and openness.” Yet, the F-word and its cousins have long ago ceased to be taboo. They have now become a part of our open lexicon. The F-word no longer functions as a pejorative or slur, but merely as a filler now. A speaker or a writer doesn’t need to be neurotic or open to use them, and the words are no longer unpleasant or emotional to wield.

In the past, rioters and protesters used to throw Molotov cocktails when driven to anger, but now people when driven to anger just drop F-bombs. And these spoken “bombs” have long ceased to be impactful, or recognized for the the explosion of emotion they used to contain. Instead, they’ve become just a substitute or an embellishment for an adjective. F-bombs lack originality, are repetitive, and are fundamentally boring. They don’t add meaning or even color anymore. Fucking great. Fucking weird. Fucking redundant. Fuck, fuck, fuck….

The F-bomb shows the intellectual laziness of the thrower. “Fuck” used to be a powerful, daring and rebellious additive, a cool utterance of the rebel-headed. Now, after decades of continuous usage, “Fuck” has become a banality. It still gives an impression of daring to some people — Look at me. I’m brave. I break down the norms. I’m cool — but less and less often these days is that the case.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. If you go to, the website can produce some creative foul language that I see as inventive and fun, such as:

“Demonizing cum knob voyeur”

“Hard-rubbing sphincter piper”

“Dangling wank udder slapper”

But that’s not what is happening on the pages of the New York Magazine or elsewhere. The regular F-bombs found in today’s lexicon are not creative. Rather than enhancing our vocabularies, they diminish them. Rather than showing our creativity, they restrict us. Rather than liberating us, they enslave us to the expected canon. I don’t know how we arrived at this point, but if you don’t throw F-bombs around liberally, you’re not intellectual anymore. It’s not limited to the liberals, of course. The alt-right throws ‘em too.

“Fuck” is an empty and overused word. It doesn’t give a sentence any freshness or meaning or even emphasis. If there is any emotion, it’s just frustration radiating from the author. Writing is not a smacking your toe and hollering in pain environment. You have time to think before you record your thoughts for posterity. If I ever had a desire to say “Fuck,” it would go away by the time I reached for the keyboard.

Although it’s banal and overused, I am not implying that the word “Fuck” is flat out unacceptable. But the F-word is lazy and pretentious. Surely, you can master it, but just dropping it left and right is not mastery. If every word counts, count it out.

To wit, I’m not afraid of the language, but for the language. It pains me to see how the priests and priestesses of the F-bomb butcher it. If someone didn’t know that “the” is the most common word in the English language, they would think that “Fuck” is.

Recently, the United States dropped on Afghanistan the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever used, to little effect except for the bragging rights. The biggest F-bomb, as it were. Everything else is just a fad or a dud. The faster it fades or is dissipated by the winds, the better.

4 replies on “The Rise & Fall of The F Bomb”
  1. says: Frederick Foote

    Thank you, Mark, for the well written and reasoned article on “The Rise and Fall of the F Bomb.”

    However, inherent in your arguments are arguments for the continued flourishing of the F Bomb. As you appear to point out the F bomb is a ubiquitous part of popular speech; “Is that just how people talk now, and the media just follows suit as it’s obligated to do, in writing what we say?”

    If the answer to your question is yes, then journalism and literature, dialog, in particular, will reflect the reality of our word usage. And in so doing fuck will be becoming increasingly accepted as an everyday term.

    For the foreseeable future, our use of the word fuck will be increasing, thriving, and spreading. If fuck were a stock it would be a good fucking investment.

    Fred Foote

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