Generation to Generation: Dealing with the F*** Word

Each generation has words, phrases, and terms that upset the previous generation. It is a right of passage to find and use language that sets you apart from the generation before you.

For my parent’s generation (now in their 70+ years) I suspect it was words like “fool? and “mess?. I’m serious. They talked about “fooling around? or “messing around?. Also “I’m a mess? “I’m a fool? “Don’t mess with me? “Don’t try to fool me? “S/he is a mess/ fool? “The world is messed up? “I got messed up Saturday night?.

My generation (now in our 50+ years) delighted in using “screw? around our elders. “Let’s screw? “Let’s screw around? “Don’t screw with me? “S/he screwed up? “I’m screwed up? “Screw you?. I can still remember my parent’s wincing, trying to correct me, all to no avail. I still use “screw? in many ways to convey many meanings.

The catchall term now is “fuck?. “Let’s fuck? “That’s fucked up? “S/he fucked up? “Don’t fuck with me? “The world is fucked? “Fuck you? “Fuck?.

I believe that part of my wincing when I hear the term (and yes upon rare occasions I have been known to use the term) is that I was taught early in the women’s movement (1960s-1970s) one origin.

As I understand it, fuck in the United States dates to the pre Civil War days with prisoners carving their names and offenses on the cell wall during incarceration. Lengthy offenses were abbreviated; somewhat like what you hear on the crimes shows today. Breaking and entering becomes B & E, and Felonious Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (the official term for rape in those days) becomes FUCK.

The dictionary list several origins including fucken (Middle English, derived from Germanic verb) and fokken (Middle Dutch). For both these the meaning is the same: to strike quickly, to penetrate, to copulate.

So FUCK enters into the culture as a term for rape, and stayed more or less underground for decades (although frequent in pornography), a vulgar term understood by all and used by few. As with other terms it made the jump to mainstream culture, with more ease into youth, alternative and alienated cultures. I remember the days when fuck was first being used more often and publicly, and it was always a word to attack, to harm, to embarrass, to verbally rape.

I know that when fuck is used today it is a catchall word, having lost its offensiveness to many. Yet, those who use it frequently have to understand why some of us still flinch, or get offended when it is directed at us.

Can’t wait to hear what the next generation says to you that makes you flinch. And the beat goes on…….

Linda Lee Sattem, Director, Counseling and Wellness Center