Our correspondent The Commentator examines how the meaning of words changes over time.
The story goes that two parents are called into their son’s school by the headmaster.
The headmaster reports they are all concerned that little Jimmy swears a lot in school and he goes on to give a long list of the words he is meant to have said.
The parents listen with some anguish and the headmaster then asks where little Jimmy may have picked up this swearing.
The father then replies: “Fuck knows”.
Okay, this is a joke but it does allude to a more serious issue, the ‘F’ word has now become so common can it still be classified as a swear word at all?
Listening to the conversation of teens that walk past my house the word is used in almost every sentence, as in:
“Fucking slow down!”.
“Fucking speed up!”.
“I fucking can’t walk that fast!”.
“You fucking did last weekend!”.
“Oh, fuck off!”
Its most common usage now appears to be as a noun or verb in various phrases to express annoyance, contempt, or impatience.
So in 2020 the meaning of the ‘F’ word as vulgar slang with sexual connotations has gone almost entirely, and it is now in normal use as part of daily conversation.
Isn’t it time we recognised this?
Many other words have changed their common usage over time, such as the word ‘gay’ for instance, which is now most commonly used as both a noun and adjective for homosexual people.
Yet in the 19th century ‘having a gay life’ was applicable to a woman engaged in prostitution, becoming an insult in the mid 20th century, with it transforming into a life that was happy and care free after that.
By the late 20th century the word had reached its modern day meaning.
Four different people living at different times over the last 150 years will assign four different meanings to the same word!
Has the ‘F’ word also moved away from its vulgar slang expression, therefore making it wrong to classify its use as such?
This is important for a number of reasons.
In schools, colleges, many workplaces, council chambers as well as the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru, the word is still classified as swearing in whatever context it is used.
Saying it can result in disciplinary action.
It can make people uncomfortable too, when they hear people using the word liberally because it is associated more with vulgar slang than modern meanings.
It can even lead to hostile comments, such as: “stop swearing in front of xxx or else!”.
So reclassifying the word publicly and institutionally could help us all adjust to the fact that the ‘F’ word is no longer swearing.
It needs to fucking happen…
If you need something to keep the children entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.