When Did Crude Become Mainstream?

Ooh, you used the F-word in your Facebook post. Yes, you got my attention, but by the look and the sound of things, you won’t be getting much more of my attention. People are wiring the F-word into the written word so much that I half expect to see it on the menu at McDonald’s.

Disclaimer time: I use that word and similar words in imageconversation, probably more than I should. Usually the other parties in those conversations are guys. I usually don’t use it in front of my wife, because she doesn’t like hearing it. Married 30 years, I understand what it means to not upset the woman who cares for you when no one else will.

I mentioned in a blog post last summer that there are a few Facebook pages I don’t “Like” because their names are offensive. They include the F-word. One is the popular “I F-ing love science” which is either about to become a TV show, or was recently co-opted by someone making a TV show.I think that’s stupid. I guess the word I’m looking for is ‘gratuitous’, but I’ll go with stupid because that’s what my father tried to tell me when I was growing up. My father swore like the proverbial sailor, but he didn’t necessarily want me to follow in his footsteps. He said that there were always better words to use to make your point and if you wanted to sound like you had an education, you should use those words.

However, once when I was working on his car and the wrench slipped off a nut, he stood there looking at my bloody hand and said “you know, at a time like this you can say f—.”

Last year I was watching a football game with my brother and my mother and one of us said that word. My mother, who has never uttered a swear word as far as I can remember (not even hell or damn), yelled at us. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how old you are, your mother can still yell at you. Anyway, in yelling at us she said “Johnny (my dad) never even used that word!” My brother and I just looked at each other and started laughing. “Of course he did, he just never used it in front of you!” He also knew the thing about not upsetting the woman who would care for you.

Actually, what he knew was respect

So, how about showing a little respect for the parents who have to explain your Facebook post, your show, your website or your menu to their kids – the kids that they hope will sound educated when they grow up.

I don’t expect to find too many of those kids reading this blog. Heck, I’m still surprised when I discover educated adults reading this blog, but that’s beside the point. Did you notice, I used the word ‘heck’ in the previous sentence? Would it have been better if I had used any one of the 5 or 6 words I can think I could have used? If I was making that statement in a bar, I probably would have used one of those words, but I as I sit here and think about it, I can’t honestly figure out what that would add. Shock value I guess, but I’m not trying to shock you.

I’m usually trying to entertain. My friend Brad Lewis made imagea comment shortly after Sid Caesar died that he (Sid) had essentially defined television comedy, without being crude or vulgar. Brad knows a thing or two about comedians; he co-authored the Biography of Milton Berle. I think if Sid and Milton did it, maybe I should try.

Sometimes, in addition to trying to entertain, I write a post to try to educate or inform or at least share my opinion with you. I’m not sure that profanity has any place in the world of education or information sharing. A blogger friend of mine recently shared a book review that she said was an example of a “mean” book review. It was laced with the F-word and other gratuitous profanity. I read it, but I won’t even link to it here because I don’t want to lend it credence. If you want to see mean reviews, google the ‘mean reviews of Roger Ebert’ (here I’ll save you the trouble). In his review of “Freddy Got Fingered” he said:

“This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”

No profanity, no F-words. My mother could read his reviews verbatim. Roger Ebert perfected the tools of his trade. He used language, wit, sarcasm, history and a keen awareness of the world around him to send his message honestly, to entertain and inform us. We should use those tools. We should inspire our children to use those tools. We should be able to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.

30 thoughts on “When Did Crude Become Mainstream?

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  1. Pictures – My wife edits my writing. If I included the words I’m not recommending here, she wouldn’t write notes like that. Brad is one of my favorite authors, so it’s not surprising to find a couple of his books between my bookends.

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    1. Thanks Nick. It’s like anything else, why would you choose to offend a portion of the population. It’s not like it’s an accident, include those words and some people are going to be offended and some are going to avoid it so they don’t have to explain it. You’re cutting your potential audience when you don’t have to. Thanks as always for reading and taking the time to comment.

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      1. Don’t open this unless you have a spare hour and a half, But I’m listening to a MOZ webinar by @thewebpsych – Amazing stuff on the psychology of websites and advertising.

        If I’ve listened well – it would suggest they are appealing to a very strong emotion, disgust. The cover of a friends book “Creative B2B Branding (No, Really)” uses a similar technique. A few, you shock into seeing more, others you alienate completely. A difficult tool to master and not one if you’re trying to appeal to every one.

        I feel a big blog post coming on…

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  2. I totally agree, Dan.
    I just saw “Book of Mormon,” which capitalizes on the f-word and being crude in general. There is so much – about many religious groups – that can be parodied, I don’t quite understand why they felt they needed to sink to that level for laughs.

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    1. Thanks Jen. I have seen so many people be funny and make great points without that language. I just don’t see the need. I guess I didn’t know what that movie was about. Thanks again.

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  3. You can be so f-funny. Seriously you have a good point.
    At home, now that my children aren’t really children anymore the f-word that was off limits has made its big entrance, and I don’t tolerate it much. My children have told me that I wasn’t any better since I was also using a bad word. In French. Good point. Any language has a word which people use way too much for no reason.
    Some writers for young readers have found clever ways to avoid the use and overuse of the f-word. One of the best is John Green. In his great book An Abundance of Katherines, one of the characters says fugging instead of the –word and motherfugger, too.
    It works well and adds humor to the story through the character.

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    1. My best friend makes up words all the time. He has used ‘foop’ ‘farook’ and others, but it always sounds more funny than offensive. Again, I think it’s a more intelligent take. Using a French word is the same, you know what you mean exactly, I’m sure others get the impression from the way you say it or they get used to it. I kind of lost it when I saw that they are planning a TV show. Thanks again for reading and I always appreciate your comments.

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  4. Hi Dan,

    Perfect article about the socially-not-so-socially acceptance of the “F” word.I’m happy I stumbled upon it.

    Yup, no need to get a point across using the F-bomb! Any inventive adjective will do!

    I enjoyed the read and take care!

    ~Cathy~

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  5. So true, so very true!! My father rarely, even with just men, cursed. He used the standby phrase – it only shows your ignorance, that you have no other way to express yourself other than cursing. I have to admit I slip up, but I try to remember not only what dad said, but just how crude it sounds when someone else says it.

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  6. When I worked in the City of London as a currency and money market trader, it was almost impossible to get through a single sentence without using the f or the c word. In fact, I once commented that to call someone a f…ing c… was almost a term of endearment amongst peers. However, I never took that way of speaking home. When I left the City but was selling software To thew City, I would invite old friends out to our office (in Chelmsford, Essex) and then would be embarrassed when I heard them speak in public, in the wine bar. There are some grouping where, i think, that you can’t get by without these words to ease the tension and the currency markets were always one of those … but only in the market!

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    1. There are places where I do think it’s accepted and almost expected. The trick is not to bring it home. I’ve worked in machine shops, on boats and even in the Post Office where it’s the local language. I was good at home when our daughter was growing up, but less so around her as an adult. Home is still off limits and we will both be corrected if necessary.

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  7. One further thought – I did embarrass my own eldest daughter once – almost on purpose. My eldest is very religious and is a lay preacher in the local church. When 15 or so, she was very straight laced. Once at a busy meal (we had four children so mealtimes were always noisy) when we had company, I asked here to “get some more milk for the table”. I went on – that is Milk – MIFLK. Her comment was – but there is no f in milk. My response, – no that is why I am asking you get some more. You should have seen her face having said, what turned out to be “No F—ing milk!”

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  8. Sorry, not sorry, I’ve a foul mouth and I’m occasionally foul on Facebook, too. My twitter feed would probably disturb you…
    My parents swear, too. Of course, I go to the home of my in-law’s and I use phrases like phooey, oh my heck! thank tacos! and shoot! I find it tremendously funny when friends of my in-laws come over and swear in their home. All of us snigger and talk about it later, laughing until we cry. :)

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    1. Don’t apologize (for not apologizing), I enjoy reading your blog very much. Your writing has an in-the-moment quality that makes me feel like I’m part of a private conversation. I read your stuff and I feel like I’m in the room laughing with you. With most others, it seems forced and for effect only. That’s how it would seem if I tried to work those words into my posts. Thanks for reading and thanks for this comment!

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  9. Nice post, Dan. I know what you mean about the F word flying around. As you stated in your disclaimer, you use it in the company of your guy friends and that reiterates that there is a time and place for it. Just last week, my 26 year old let out the f word in a conversation with me and immediately apologized. She understood that it wasn’t appropriate for our conversation. I work mostly with 8 year olds and whenever I hear one of them say, “what the —“, I always ask if the word that follows “the” is appropriate for our setting. Each time I get a very quiet “no”. Time, place, and respect.

    Have a pleasant balance of the weekend!

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  10. I could NOT agree more, Dan. The proliferation of profanity is a sad fact of modern life. Sure, I’ll let some choice words fly now and then myself, but as you say, there’s a time and a place for everything. At least, that USED to be the unspoken agreement in society, but now? It’s wall to wall, from movies and TV shows to books and bumper stickers. And as crass words become more commonplace, it becomes harder and harder to express true frustration and outrage. When they become part of our conversational wallpaper, we drain them of their effectiveness.

    But that doesn’t mean we have to give in. I learned from my own non-cussing father (who had quite a temper, I might add) that you could make your point far more effectively by being clever, not crude. I strongly suspect that that practice, that restraint, helped me become the writer and editor I am today, frankly. The example of Roger Ebert’s negative reviews is a good one. Who thinks an f-bomb would have improved them, or made them more devastating? They’re nearly always crutches for those too lazy or dumb to explain their rationale.

    Kudos for a (warning, s-word coming!) stellar post. Great job.

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    1. Thanks Paul. I have come close so many times but even when I write it out, I don’t like it as much. I just try to find a more clever way to say it with other words. I look a lot if stuff up though :)

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