The Use of the F- Word


Author’s Note: This is a follow-up to a Genre of the Week article posted a few weeks ago bearing the same name. To view that, please click here.

Our next pun with foreign languages takes us not only back to the DVD that was given a review a few weeks ago in the Files, but also back to the origins of the (in-)famous four letter F-word, and how it is used in all reality. 😉

While teaching English at a German Volkshochschule back in 2003, a student of mine (who is a professor of math and physics at the college of applied sciences) presented a topic on this particular subject and all of its origins and uses. Many other students in the group at that time did not know that the word existed, nor did they know that it was a swear word that is considered a sin to say if residing in the USA and/or a devoted Christian. Nor did they know that its origins were German. It was rarely used in Germany at that time.

Fast-forward to the future and we find that the word has been integrated into the German language as well as English as a foreign language. The function still remains the same, yet people trying to use the word tend to misuse it, thus confusing and even angering many English teachers and other people in the process.  Like in American English, the word can be used as an interjection, reacting to a situation that happened, such as a person swearing over the bottom of a paint can giving out while carrying it through the living room. This happened to my father when I was 11, and his cussing was heard throughout the neighborhood. 😉   The F-word is sometimes equivalent to the German word “doch” and can be used to stress a sentence, forcing someone to do something. Both are commonly found when non-natives communicate in English.

However, the F-word has been misused a lot by non-native speakers of English; some by accident, others on purpose, like this example in an English class with a group of Hauptschule graduates, where one student on the first day claimed that (….)ing was his favorite hobby (I wonder how many women had had him on their hit list when he said it in my class a few years ago….). We also have seen many apparel where the F-word has been integrated either straight out, like “F- the Police!” or altered to hide the distaste of a person(s), like “Buck Fush!” shirts that were being sold in protest to the policies of George W. Bush. Some of these were understandable, others are questionable at best.  Then we have titles like the genre introduced, which presents the correct way of pronouncing the word, but brutally misspelled. Cool, but crude! 😉

Yet the use of swear words may develop you intellect while communicating, as some studies have suggested (click one of the examples here), but it shuns out the sensitivity of others who prefer not to swear or let others utter the word. It is the other way around too, where the use of alternatives sounds rather weird to the intellects. In either case, if one is inclined to teach people not to swear, ask yourself this question: What alternative words can be used to substitute the use of the more common swear words, such as the F-word?  If your student is keen on swearing for pleasure, you might want to write down the example sentence he utters plus 10 more and ask him to replace the swear words without ruining the meaning of the sentence or the syntax. You will find it difficult to do, especially when swear words are part of our way of life and other alternatives may be difficult to find.

However, a better alternative is to show the students the use of words, like the F-word and ask them why they use it when most of the time the word is either irrelevant in the context or inappropriate. The reason is that swearing is best done sparingly and most of the time, not in public. Even if it sometimes cannot be helped, there are ways to vent it out without hurting others in the process. And therefore, I would like to close this entry with the presentation of the F-word, courtesy of Monty Python. The soundtrack is exactly the same as was presented in my English class in 2013, yet this is the youtube version, whose graphic features best describes the usage (not to worry, nothing graphic). You will be amazed at the various uses of the F-word in the context, yet you will have a better idea when you can use it and when not; especially if you have not used it yet. So relax, watch the f-ing clip and then you can tell your f-ing nemesis to go (….) himself. 😉

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