Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oblivious To Bad Words

[content note: offensive language]

I saw a link to an opinion piece by Ruben Navarrette at CNN.com in which he decries the use of the w-word. What? There's a w-word now? I am so behind! and so I clicked on it to find out what it was. After the first few lines, though, my desire to be aware of offensiveness was momentarily thwarted when he stated that he would not be writing the word out because it is so offensive. Instead he wrote out the first half and censored the last with hyphens. I had to search the comment section for someone who was brave enough (offensive enough?) to write the whole word out.

This self-imposed censorship made me think of Louis C.K., who gets angry when people refer to any vulgarity or slur as "the [insert letter here]-word," because it immediately puts the actual word into his head, letting the speaker off the hook for taking responsibility for their language. (You can watch his rant here, if you like, but first know that he is far mor liberal with his language than I plan on being in this post.) A friend of mine once made a similar case for the use of words like "gosh" and "darn" as a stand-in for "god" and "damn," saying that these are likewise abdicating personal responsibility. I suppose he has a point.

And that reminded me of my first exposure to the biggest, baddest vulgarity of them all (or at least it used to be - it may have since been eclipsed by others).

I was in the fourth grade, and had either never heard this particular word or, as the title of this post and my genetic legacy as seen in a particular child of mine seem to suggest, had heard it but was simply oblivious to it.

One morning, I arrived to find a group of third and fourth graders huddled around Matthew, gazing at him in stunned silence.

"What's going on?" I asked Kelly.

She pulled me aside, a look of awe on her face, and whispered, "Matthew said the f-word."

I, a fourth grade student not yet laden with that adolescent quality which seeks to appear more knowledgeable and worldly than one is, asked her what this f-word was.

She, slightly startled, spelled it out for me, again in a whisper. "F, U, C, K."

"Fuck!?"

And pretty soon I had my own congregation of quiet students, staring, shocked that I would have the audacity to utter a word of such power. But I wasn't trying to be audacious. I was simply demonstrating to Kelly that I was literate.

Aw, fourth-grade Mark. How fond I am of you.
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