Friday, January 22, 2010

The f-word. Yup, that f-word.

In the days when I had a website, I had a (pleasingly longish) list of extracts from favorable reviews of my published books. I concluded the first list with a comment from my adoptive mother -- possibly the only comment she made to me about the book: "I see you used some bad language."

Mum, you ain't heard nothing yet.

(Her comment on the second book was "I won't give a copy to your aunt, I don't think she'd approve." This, from the woman who handed me my first Agatha Christie when I was twelve, and so is partly to blame for the fact you're reading this tripe.)

Of course, the supposed bad language was only bad for her generation and her cultural milieu. American readers would expect the English to pepper their conversation with "bloody" -- and I do -- perhaps without realizing that, until fairly recently, it was quite offensive back in England. Well, to my mother's generation, anyway. Much more "goddamn" than "goshdarn." It led to the creation of a slew of "minced oaths" (although I like the word "discursives"): "blooming," "blasted," "bleeding," "ruddy."  Same with "bugger." In the US, I've heard that applied to children -- little things that bug us, like rugrats or anklebiters, not its alternative dictionary meaning of . . . well, look it up. Same as "sod."

However, in deference to my late mother's sensibilities, I had never dropped the f-bomb on my readers.  "What if my mother reads this?" was still a guiding editorial principle for bad language and scenes of sexual activity when I was in my forties and into my second marriage. Truly.

But today -- if I can get all my bills paid first and walk the dog -- I have to write a joking comment that's highly relevant to character development, and it's based on confusing two of the f-word's many functions: its literal meaning and its use as an intensifer. (Actually, it's the present participle form.)

And it has to be that word. Nothing else seems to work. We don't use other synonyms for copulation as intensifiers: "She's bonking amazing," "You are so shagging dead." Or vice versa, there don't seem to be any commonly used intensifiers -- many of them minced oaths -- that also mean to fornicate: "Let's go home and freak our brains out." Besides, why serve sevruga when there's beluga in the fridge?

I could always use the "f***ing" option, but it does severely weaken the impact of the joke. It's like decaf. It's like alcohol-free beer. It's like going skinny-dipping but keeping your underwear on.

Well, I'm a big boy now, so it's on with the blindfold and then type away.

Now I just have to worry about my children reading it.

1 comment:

  1. One of my sons has read my mysteries (which have That Word sprinkled about liberally, in addition to That Act), the other cannot. "You're my mother," he says, shuddering. Now I have to keep them out of my grandchildren's hands until they're old enough to be exposed. I wonder how shocked they'll be.