Is F-Word Usage Flunking Culture?

When did saying the f-word become so common? Why are movies and plays so loaded with vulgar language the plot and characters become secondary?

I’m hardly swear-free, and even had a swearing jar myself when in 8th grade, created by my friend Kathy.  I think the fine was a quarter and I’m not sure how long it lasted.

Profanity has crept into speech like a pervasive parasite, particularly in films and contemporary theater, and I don’t like it.

A blurb about a new play about Civil War re-enactors interested me. My husband loves all things Civil War and discount tickets were available. The play, “Row After Row” by Jessica Dickey, occurs during the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. Two friends, one playing a Union soldier, the other a Confederate, meet in a bar after the “fake” battle and meet a young woman who had also participated in the event. Therein lies the problem; she’s dressed in unauthentic attire, pretending to be a soldier when women weren’t allowed on the battlefield.  The issues of their lives unfold—job woes, relationship troubles and so on, alternating with flashbacks to 1863, reliving the battle. The language in the modern day scenes was so replete with swearing and f-word hurling, I became distracted from the plot and annoyed I’d wasted time and money on this play.

Who’s to blame?

In the tweet/text world, abbreviations for f-wordisms run rampant: WTF, LMFAO, etc. I don’t even know what most stand for

For young people, who may sprinkle these like salt into texts and speech,  learning to code switch on a job or in school may become more difficult. Where’s the line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t?

Obviously, one can communicate quite well without swearing. In the play, the historical scenes, filled with emotion and pathos, included nary an obscenity.  Instead lyrical passages conveyed the messages, holding my attention and respect.

Classical theater abounds with great writing portraying the spectrum of human emotions without use of profanity.

Here are a few examples of Shakespeare’s insults:

“He is deformed, crooked, old and sere, 
Ill-faced, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind; 
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind. “
The Comedy of Errors (4.2.22-5)

“More of your conversation would infect my brain.” Coriolanus (2.1.91

“Away! Thou’rt poison to my blood.” 
Cymbeline (1.1.128)

“’Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! You tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck!” Henry IV (2.4.227-9)

“You juggler! You canker-blossom!” A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3.2.293)

Marketing gurus recognized the ubiquitous profanity problem. You can purchase “swearing jars.”  Unknown

And if that isn’t your thing, there’s an App.

So am I too prudish? What about you? Does hearing profanity bother you?

This entry was posted in commentary, Education, Movies & TV, New York City, reviews, Shakespeare, teaching, teenagers, Theater, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Is F-Word Usage Flunking Culture?

  1. I’m with you on this one Lisa. My father kept a swear jar — it included poor grammar too and as Canadians — we had to put a dime in for every time we used, ‘Eh’. It taught me to clean up my language and keep it clean.

    I dislike intensely hearing people on the streets, in stores, in lines, everywhere I go, using the F-bomb as if it was confetti.


    Thank you for the app link! I’m going to check it out.


  2. nathan says:

    I find the use of profanity, in any context, disgusting, disturbing, and unnecessary.


  3. Me says:

    This is brilliant, lisa!!! I’m going to pull out my own swearing jar…

    Dana This message has been sent from my iPhone.



  4. I completely agree with you! It seems like every movie I watch lately has the f-word as the majority of adjectives and verbs. Not very imaginative! Shakespeare had imagination. 🙂


  5. I find the use of curse words for emphasis simply lazy. I used to tell my children that they were only allowed to swear if they had really hurt themselves. I had to say that because they caught me doing it. But perhaps we need some more words we can use for emphasis. Any suggestions? (Please keep them clean…)


  6. grandmalin says:

    Hearing profanity doesn’t bother me as long as it’s in a situation that warrants it, when a powerfully strong word or two is the best way to get your message across loud and clear. But all the time because you’re too lazy to express yourself any other way? Not acceptable, not funny, just a little pathetic.


  7. I’m not swear-free but I am intentional about not dropping the f-bomb most of the time. Something that someone said to me a long time ago plays a huge part in my desire not to do so. They said something like this: “Using the f-word shows that you don’t have a command of the English language…” This has stuck with me because I love words and I don’t want people to think I’m not capable of expressing myself! Prideful? Maybe. Effective? definitely!


  8. ShimonZ says:

    I don’t find it really offensive. But it’s boring and uninspired. Especially when it’s loaded on. It’s like someone who takes two soup spoons of sugar with his coffee instead of two table spoons…


  9. Drjcwash says:

    I was watching the first part of the Grammy Award Show while waiting for Downtown Abbey to come. CBS was working overtime in the “Bleeping” I agree.


  10. Margaret Crater says:

    May have a limited place in home-and-auto fix-it settings, but I agree it’s waaay overdone in theater and broadcast, and once in a while on the street, too. When the TV is on, it sometimes seems as though every adjective, adverb and verb starts with “f”….


  11. Reblogged this on TheTripletBlogger and commented:
    Hear, hear!


  12. Karin says:

    Swearing is a distraction, and in most cases I find the use of swear words unnecessary. We actually have a DVD player called ClearPlay that mutes swearing from film. I don’t miss the words at all. 🙂 Sorry for your play experience. Maybe that was part of the writer’s statement on the time in which we live? (I’m not familiar with the play, so I don’t know….) Nice post! 🙂


  13. karen r-w says:

    My grandma always says “the only place a woman can swear is the kitchen” (I guess she found it reasonable to curse if you burn yourself, cut yourself, or accidentally substitute salt for sugar.)


  14. You’re not prudish; I wish I was more like you. However, there is no swearing jar in our house, because I’d be broke. :-p


  15. Swearing is like violence on TV. As we become desensitized to it, it takes more and more to get the desired effect. Eventually overused words lost their power. I watched the series Deadwood, and was annoyed and irritated by the constant use of the ‘F’ word. Here is a link to a post I wrote long ago, called ‘The ‘S’ Word.’
    Thanks for speaking out, Lisa.


  16. When we were newly married we were invited to dinner at one of the older couples’s homes. During the conversation one of the men said “f….” something or other. My eyes teared and I had to leave the room because I was so upset. If I still had that reaction I would be leaving rooms all the time and my eyes would be red from all that tearing up!


  17. We all swear when we are frustrated, but swearing for the most part, indicates poor vocabulary and a lack of verbal skills, and is usually meaningless. Shakespeare’s word bite. I always thought that cursing in Yiddish had a touch of humor and was not malicious. After reading “Born to Quvetch”, Iearned that Yiddish curses caan be mean.


  18. Roberta says:

    I despise profanity! And most certainly children should not be subjected to it. Our world is watering down so much. So as a man thinketh,so is he..I guess you can call me!


    • I too dislike hearing profanity. Unfortunately the only places I am not exposed to its use are: my home, my church, and in other religious settings. I hear it used by children of all ages in and around schools, on playgrounds, in restaurants, at sporting events, and in shopping malls. I am uncomfortable with the fact that for many the words I deem profane are part of normal discourse.


    • Thanks for stopping in.


  19. Proud Parent says:

    I don’t know when using profanity became common place in pop culture. I just know that it is. Many very young children at the schools where I have taught fluently use profanity, including the f-word, in normal conversation. Once I make them aware of the fact that certain terms make me uncomfortable they try to curtail their use in my presence. However, when hovered in their peer groups they regularly use profanity. This reveals a fundamental shift in cultural values about what is profanity.


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