excerpted from caro's journal: topic: deprecated expressions

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2001_08_29:17: Minor Adjustments

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Bryan just wrote with this question:
BTW, Re: 'fuck'. How do you analyze 'fuck around', as in, "I was just fuckin' around" (i.e., with some papers, or all morning long), where 'fuck' and 'fiddle' are referentially synonymous? I suspect that 'fuck you' really doesn't have a sexual connotation any more; I'm pretty sure it doesn't for me. And the possibility of a non-sexually connotative use of 'fuck' is confirmed by the lack of sexual connotation of 'fuck around', (when the fucking around is not with persons not your committed monogamous partner, but rather papers &c).
Good question. I think this needs clarification, since I didn't say it very well in my first notes on the topic.

I do agree that, in some contexts, the word 'fuck' doesn't have very strong sexual connotations. Any such connotations are probably left over from the kind of punishment that would be meted out by a parent or teacher who overheard an eight-year-old saying "Hey, let's fuck around on the swingset!" What is supposed to be so bad about this expression? Why would a child get in trouble for it? At least with the word 'damn', you can give the child some idea of what other people will understand her to mean: the word refers to damnation, to hell, to eternal punishment. What is the bad thing that the word 'fuck' refers to? There's only one thing that I know of that the culture considers bad, that this word refers to: sex. The younger the child, the more important it is that she not say it, because sex is not for kids, who are pure and innocent. Innocent of what? Of the terrible thing that carnal knowledge is.

I think that Bryan's question highlights what a horrific package-deal the word 'fuck' represents. There is simply no way to express what is supposed to be bad about saying the word without eventually getting to sex. This is not to suggest that Bryan would so silly as to teach his child that sex, or the word 'fuck', is bad. Nevertheless, his child might very well be sent home from school for saying "Let's fuck around!" at which point she would need to have it explained what the big deal was; and if neither she nor Bryan want her to get sent home every day, she'll need to stop saying it. What is Bryan going to say, to help her understand this? He can say that some silly people think that the word is bad; but the explanation for that, ultimately, comes down to sex. Sex is at the root of it. Sex, that thing we all need, desire, are curious about, and like to engage in, is the problem behind the word 'fuck'. It wouldn't be such a fun word to get away with saying, if it weren't--not because we like to get away with using sex-words, but because we like to get away with saying bad words.

The problem is that, in most contexts, the word 'fuck' has bad connotations. These connotations are carried over into contexts in which it should have good connotations. It is because of the carry-over in this direction, that I've stopped using 'fuck' and words like it in non-sexual contexts. I don't want to infect my mind with even the slightest suspicion that, when I fuck, I'm doing something terrible, or even mildly-disapproved-of. The problem is not that 'fuck' always has sexual connotations, but rather that it doesn't always have sexual connotations. And when it doesn't, the connotations it does have are usually wretchedly bad. It's not the sort of word that one can say during a typical job interview, for example. ("So, tell me, Bryan. When you're not working, how do you like to relax?" "Oh, I usually just fuck around with my model railroad...")

No, words don't have intrinsic meaning. I'm sure that there are people who can use the word 'fuck' with no sexual connotations whatsoever. I'm not one of them; I always think of sex when I hear the word. And if you go to any search engine and type in 'fuck', you will find a wealth of porn and erotica sites, most of which at least purport to think that sex is desirable and good. So in the general culture, the term has not lost its sexual connotations, and even people who never use it sexually themselves get exposed to uses of it as a sexual term.

It seems fairly inescapable. Nevertheless, I don't see any reason to contribute to it, or to take part in my own mental and emotional corruption by using the term in unpleasant contexts. I implore other people to at least think about it before they blurt it out, to be careful of what they mean, and what other people will take them to mean, before they speak. That's all.

Incidentally, I don't think that modifications of the word, often used by children and religious people in order to escape earthly punishment or eternal damnation, do anything to ameliorate the psychological damage. Replacement expressions such as 'gosh darn' are simply laughable; after all, the Almighty knows that you're taking his nickname in vain, so you're still going to hell. 'Frickin' still means 'fuckin'; 'freakin' is just as bad. These little modifications may create the illusion of using a neutral expression, but if you know what expression you're trying to cover up with it, then I can't see how it does any good. And it's even worse to feed these expressions to little kids, who won't understand until much later that they've been taking the name of sex in vain for years because their elders told them that it was ok.
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2001_09_22:21: Selfless Sacrifice

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The term 'selfless sacrifice' has really got to go. The term always lurks beneath the surface of normal life, but since the bombing it has blossomed forth from every corner. Maybe we can eek a tiny amount of moral reform out of the catastrophe, or maybe just help one or two people think a little better.

Here's a note I'll be sending around to various places. Please feel free to copy it and send it on. To assist the uninformed, please include the link to Enlightenment.
If we praise our fire fighters and police officers for "selfless sacrifices," and commend our military for the "sacrifices" they are about to make, then what language do we have left for the suicide bombers of September 11 2001?

Not even our military has ever asked its personnel to sacrifice their lives. We ask them to protect us. We train them to take risks with the greatest possible knowledge and safety. They take these risks because the American way of life is the life they themselves want to live. Our military, our police force, and our fire departments ask their personnel to do the job, and come back alive. Sometimes they don't make it back, but it's not because they didn't try. Suicide bombers are the people who don't try. Because of their selfless sacrifice, thousands died and millions are now suffering.

Selflessness and sacrifice is not our way of life. It is the enemy's way of death. Think about it. Please.

Find out more about the American way of life, and the moral theory that grounds it: Find Enlightenment
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2001_09_15:01: Adam

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'Terrorist' is a useless word. The 'ist' makes it sound like a profession, gives it a dignity and coherence that the perpetrators don't deserve. I'm too scattered to say anything meaningful about this right now. The word rankles me every time I hear it and every time I use it for lack of a better one. Maybe we should just call them 'nazis'. I like that word. It says so much about the mindset, the psychology, the aims, the motivations. The stimulation of fear is merely one of the means by which these and other nazis live out their fantasies. Nazis is what they are.
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2001_07_20:18: Social Considerations

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New topic: Here, I critique the English language.

Fuck is said in many ways. But most of the ways are indicative of how negatively people in this culture regard sex.

For example, the expression 'fuck you' is equivalent to the expression 'go to hell'. To tell someone to go to hell is to say that you think they either deserve the worst possible fate, or that whatever fate they actually deserve you wish they would suffer the worst possible fate. It is exactly under these circumstances that someone says 'fuck you'. But there is one difference. The expression 'go to hell' is considered by ordinary people to be much less severe and much more acceptable than 'fuck you'. But the expression 'go to hell' doesn't have any sexual connotations whatsoever. How could it come to pass that the word 'fuck' could have become one of the worst insults?

An anthropologist from another culture might imagine that this is because the word 'fuck' has lost all sexual connotations, and is essentially a meaningless term that is no more nor less than an expletive, like "Pah!" or "Ack!" And yet this is not the case at all, because the same person who says 'fuck you!' during a quarrel will also say to a partner "Let's fuck, baby" or to a friend, "Yeah, I fucked her last night."

There are similar expressions. To screw is to have sex with. But this one, unlike 'fuck', has found its way into polite society. It's ok to say 'His business partner screwed him', or to say of someone in trouble, "She's screwed." But the connotation of sex is not gone from these expressions. The implication is that it is bad to be fucked, or to be screwed, that to fuck or screw is to do something to someone, to get away with something terrible. Completely unsurprisingly, this is exactly the way that sex is portrayed in the culture.

I'd like to see people stop and ask themselves what they really mean when they say to someone "You suck!". Are they suggesting that they think that would be a bad thing for either party? Do they mean that their lovers are despicable, because they do it? Or just despicable because they do it to them? And since getting sucked is probably the thing that they really want most in the world, wouldn't the world be a better place for them on the whole if they and their friends promoted the idea that sucking was a good idea rather than something that no one would want to do?

I think that parents and teachers are the worst culprits in the perpetuation of these wretched attitudes. Most kids would be reprimanded for saying 'damn' or 'hell'; saying 'fuck' might elicit a much more stringent punishment, even though it probably means a lot less to a child than the very abstract 'damn' means. And not only does this make it much more cool, in a child's mind, to say "Fuck you!" but it also makes that everpresent parentally-approved link in his or her mind between sex and the worst possible offense. Then later, they actually find out what it means. Does anyone think that the connection between what they got punished most severely for, and sex, escapes them? Does anyone really think that the associations of sex and punishment are so strong by accident?

Sex is too nice a thing to fuck with, and it would be nice if we didn't, like victims sanctioning our own sacrifice, screw with our own minds by exhorting the people we hate to blow us. When we use terms with sexual connotations as insults we contribute to our own confusion and cognitive dissonance, and with each use we get better at not being very good at thinking about sex. I've stopped using them entirely except in explicitly sexual contexts.

One drawback of deprecating the expression 'fuck you' is that we loose Neal Stephenson's great contribution to the vernacular, 'fuck-you money'. That's an amount of money so large that you can afford to ignore or insult anyone who would interfere with your freedom--I think. I suppose there's no loss if one substitutes something else, like 'go-to-hell money', except that then one isn't quoting Cryptonomicon. I don't know what I'd replace it with. 'Eat-shit money?'

Understand, my point is not to remove obscenity from the language. My point is to separate sex and obscenity from each other in our minds. People who don't like or are afraid of sex have stolen the concept FUCK from us; I want it back, clean and pure, the way it used to be when it was just for unlawful carnal knowledge.

I blame all this on religion, but that's for another time.