Do you know what these expressions mean? Of course you do. Everyone over the age of 10 does.
And yet the American mass media continue to use these infantile symbols when they want to refer to someone using the word fuck.
U.S. News & World Report is the latest grownup magazine to coyly play it both ways.
In this week’s article on how John McCain’s “sharp tongue could affect the [presidential] race,” they noted he was reported telling Senator John Cornyn “F— you.” Later in the story, they reminded us that three years ago, Vice-President Cheney “famously used the “F-word”” while quarrelling with Senator Pat Leahy.
This is just too puerile for words. First they imply that using the word fuck is a gauge of a person’s temperament or even his fitness for public office. Then they pretend the word is so powerful that reproducing it on the page is dangerous. But for some reason readers need to know that the dreaded syllable was uttered, and so it is, literally, spelled out for us.
What exactly is the difference between fuck and “the F-word”? The same as the difference between pasties and real nipples—the pretense of morality. The insistence that something harmless is dangerous, but that simply covering it makes us safer. The illusion that blushing makes everything OK.
If the magic word is that treacherous, we shouldn’t be invited to hear it in our mind’s ear. Magazines shouldn’t use “fruit you” either. They should say “he said a really awful word that’s too horrible to print.” That would make people think, another thing from which magazines seem eager to protect us.