When is it okay to use the F word?


A lot of what I learned in college I learned from the New York Times. I was completely incapable of managing the college application process on my own. In hindsight, it strikes me as similar to my experience with the DMV. The application process is way too complicated for someone with Asperger Syndrome. But I didn’t know I had Asperger’s then, so I assumed that if the process was impossible for me it was impossible for everyone, and no one was really doing it.

My parents only realized in April of my senior year, when my friends were getting early admissions to Stanford and Brown, that I had not applied anywhere but Vassar.

I got rejected. So my parents pulled strings and gave a big donation, and I got into their alma mater, Brandeis. During the McCarthy era, Brandeis was a haven for left-wing professors who scared everyone else. By the time I got there, in the ’80s, Brandeis was a haven for smart, Jewish New Yorkers who did not quite make it into the Ivy League, and wanted a haven from the semi-adult world that did not function like Jewish summer camp.

I did not fit in well, but of course, all the kids that did not fit in well somehow ended up hanging out with each other. My freshman year roommate, for example, had Asperger’s. (What luck!) My junior year roommate was just realizing that he was gay, and he thought he was being taken over by the devil. I told him being gay is fine, and that if anything, the devil is working though his dad, whose job was to ensure that Camel sold ten billion gazillion cigarettes to kids by using their icon properly.

All normal kids are the same, and all kids who are weird are weird in different ways, but the common thread through the weird kids at Brandeis was that they all read the New York Times. I had never seen that newspaper until I went to Brandeis. I’m not sure it was worth $40,000 a year, but to learn to read the New York Times when you are young is, actually, a great step toward being successful in adult life.

One of the most eye-opening parts of the paper was William Safire’s column, On Language. I grew up in a family of doctors and lawyers, so I never considered that writing was something an adult did with any seriousness, but I found myself doing writerly things in secret, and reading William Safire was a part of that.

His column was mostly about how dynamic language is. He knew tons about language, but he never snubbed his nose when people did not use language in a conventional way. I learned from him that it’s just not that interesting to be the language police; it’s more interesting to be the language philosopher. I also learned from his column that it’s interesting to watch language evolve, because language is the visible result of underlying changes in our society.

Which leads me to the word fuck. I use it very infrequently in this blog, because I think makes for uninteresting writing—there’s always a more precise way to express dismay, and precision is interesting to read. But in real life, I say fuck all the time.

I did not have any trouble with this before I had kids. In general, though, I tell the kids that fuck is an adult word, and they can’t use it. (My son asked if he could use fuck when he is old enough to quit violin lessons. I said yes, although tentatively because I hate to have the day he can quit violin lessons be the marker of when the world gets great.)

No one had ever told me that my using the word fuck was offensive, so I never thought about it much. Until I met the farmer.

The farmer had never heard anyone use fuck in everyday conversation. I thought he was sheltered, so I basically ignored his request to stop saying fuck. But then, I was talking with the contractors who were working on our house, and I said fuck, and they nearly fell off their chairs.

“See,” the farmer said later, “I told you. People never say that word around here. They couldn’t believe you said it. Right there. In your very own kitchen.”

The thing is, I think fuck is like dick. And I never say the word dick. I mean, I can write it, but really, I can’t say it. And the farmer actually said to my kids, “Try peeing out of the hole in the barn. It’s fun. Just point your dick in the middle so the pee doesn’t bounce back at you.”

I said, “What? You cannot use the word dick with the kids!”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“It’s crass. And kids should learn the proper names for talking about their bodies.”

“Hold it. You are telling me that I’m crass?”

I knew he was talking about fuck. He just can’t say it. I thought about it. I said, “I think it’s just cultural, because, really, fuck is slang for something that is perfectly fine to say, and dick is the same way.”

So we agreed that he will use language that I think is crass, because I think it’s fun. And I will refrain from using fuck.

Then I came across some other information about swearing. There is research from Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at University of East Anglia that swearing at work helps build teamwork. And Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, finds that using taboo words is a good stress reliever. In his paper, Ubiquity and Utility of Taboo Words, surveys show that when we are upset, instead of restraining our language to vent, we actually do feel better when we swear.

(I told this to the farmer, and he made me realize that since I say fuck every day, I’d have to say something like god fucking dammit in order to release tension.)

William Safire helps me to understand that the farmer’s intolerance for fuck is not provincial. Well, maybe provincial, but also interesting.

The farmer also says things like “Whaddyou got goin?” as opposed to “What are you doing today?” And he uses double negatives like, “I’m not doin nothin about that,” which he did not start using until we had been dating a while, so clearly he knows when to shut it off. But I don’t like him shutting down his dialect.

It’s dialect, right? Or vernacular. I am not sure I know how to use either of these words, but I’m sure that it’s interesting to hear people use my language in new ways.

There is vernacular for photos, as well. My friends come to the farm and take pictures of cuteness, like the one at the top of this post from Caitlin.

But when the farmer takes pictures of pigs, he shows clinical details, that non-farmers don’t necessarily see.

I did not notice the difference in visual language until I started looking closely at photos for posting on my blog. But it was a pleasant surprise.

I told the farmer I was going to write this post. Mostly to give him warning that he was going to go nuts that I wrote a post with ten fucks in it. But I said, “I’m a little nervous about writing about William Safire,” which was also true.

The farmer said, “Why?”

I said, “He’s so old. I mean, he’s not old. He’s dead. And he’s really from an older era. I want people to think I’m young and fun.”

“What do you mean, young and fun?”

“I guess I mean fuckable.”

“What? Why do you have to use that word?”

“Because sometimes fuck is just the right word. Think about it. Tell me when you think of a word you can use to replace fuckable.”

And I think he’s still thinking.

118 replies
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  1. JC
    JC says:

    I don’t believe I’ll ever use the F-word in my writing simply because it’s not a word that I grew up hearing and it deeply offends my mother. However, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the use of it because, umm, it’s just a word.

    Words mean things but those meanings aren’t the same for everyone. It’s all about how it’s used and perceived within a certain group of people.

    If I were to barge into my relatives place screaming the F-word, they’d be mightily pissed off and very disappointed in my seemingly rude behavior.

    If I walk in screaming the F-word in front of my roommates, they just laugh and/or join in.

    It’s all about context and the people you’re around.

    I don’t mind that you use it in your blog posts. Actually, it lets me know that you’re real and I appreciate that.

  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    You could learn to swear in other languages. Then you’d get to swear all the time and nobody would notice.
    I like to swear in French. They’ve got great words, with hissing sibilants and explosive consonants. They’re mostly church words which only adds to the fun (cultures swear about the things they fear the most: the French fear the church, and the English fear their bodies). You string a whole bunch of these words together to make one long, neverending swear phrase.
    And you can do it in public, because in your country, nobody speaks French.
    Context is everything.

  3. Perry Neal
    Perry Neal says:

    If the farmer doesn’t like “fuckable”, how about “hot”, “doable”, or even “MILF”? (Sucks to realize you’re old enough to be a MILF, huh?)

    I agree with the previous poster’s point about context. And I think that the more often, and widely, a “taboo” word is used, it loses more and more of its shock value.

    I think though that there’s something to be said for not using some words often so that they retain their shock value.

  4. Bud Bilanich
    Bud Bilanich says:

    Coming of age in the 60’s I used to curse all the time. Then I realized that by cursing I was presenting myself as someone with a limited vocabulary — when in fact my vocabulary is quite large. I also realized that cursing can offend others. I am enough of a gentleman to avoid offending others whenever I can.

    So I stopped cursing, and you know what? My relationships improved, and others came to see me as witty and charming, not crass.

    Re: the point about being “fuckable” — I think that “sexually desireable” communicates the intent quite well. On the other had, “fuckable” does imply a willingness that “sexually desireable” does not.

    That’s my take — and I don’t consider myself to be a prude.

  5. Jesse Farrell
    Jesse Farrell says:

    Sometimes “fuck” is simply the correct word. Personally, I don’t believe in taboo words, only taboo contexts.

    I hate it when people with whom I’m not acquainted use profanity around me. It’s not the profanity to which I object, it’s the assumption of familiarity.

    I tell those people to go fuck themselves.

  6. Theresa Quintanilla
    Theresa Quintanilla says:

    Ah, William Safire. What a mensch! Have you seen the book “Good Advice” which he co-wrote with his brother? What famous author works on a book with their no-name brother? A mensch. In so many ways.

  7. Courtenay Pitcher
    Courtenay Pitcher says:

    When you wrote that the Farmer doesn’t like you using the “F” word, I cringed. It reminded me of my first boyfriend trying to control me when I was seventeen. I dumped him. I think the reason my husband and I have had a successful twenty year marriage is because he doesn’t chastize me for being who I am and saying what I want. I’ve offended many people in my time, including his parents, by either talking too brash or being too opinionated, right in front of him. He is the politically correct one. Never offending people. But, on the other hand, he also never expressed himself until he met me. Don’t change how you talk to fit in. If people don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves. (I mean that in the nicest way.)

  8. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I have a favor to ask you. Please go take a look at these 2 blogs. http://bit.ly/bKkhbL and http://bit.ly/9iqJZP. They are bride blogs, but that doesn’t really matter. They represent, I think, the way in which the cool girls now have taken up the F-Word as a flag of “They can’t keep us down, the bastards!” I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the links. I really liked the first one. I’m not a fan of bride blogs. After all, I couldn’t even manage to have a wedding for my wedding. But all the same, the blogger’s use of fuck is really good. Exactly when I would use it (if the farmer were not around :)


  9. Shayla
    Shayla says:

    One of my co-workers just implemented a new rule for using the F word at work…we have to use it more creatively, or not at all. Thumbs up to that!

  10. Peter
    Peter says:

    Maybe you could have a moratorium on “interesting,” which usually isn’t. I’d rather read the f-word in its place.

  11. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    Both “dialect” and “vernacular” represent ways of speaking, generally in contrast to some “standard” language (“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy” – many of the various Chinese “dialects” would be considered separate languages if they weren’t under the same management; conversely, Hindi and Urdu would be considered dialects of the same language if they weren’t in different countries (and typically written in different scripts). The Basques don’t have their own army, but at least they try.).

    The meaning of dialect is more definite, though – really a language not considered the standard language of a country, but usually with a close relation to another language that IS.

    Vernacular is less definite. Mostly it is just used to mean “informal speech” to contrast to a more formal style (“The price you offered is far too low to be considered a serious offer- or, as we say in the vernacular, fuck you and the horse you rode in on!”). Originally, if the Wikipedia is to be believed (and it has a very interesting entry), it contrasted the local dialect to a very different “standard” language such as German compared to Church Latin.

    • Jacque
      Jacque says:

      Don’t you love it when you make a simple comment and then some condescending know-it-all tries to teach you something in a long drawn out comment? Fuck that!

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        My pleasure. There are downsides to keeping ones know-it-all credentials up to date, though.

        My boss plays golf, and I recommended a book of cute little golf stories from P.G.Wodehouse to him. He replied that he would not take seriously book recommendations from somebody who read “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” for fun.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jens, I just *knew* there would be a linguist among us! Thank you for the explanation. I enjoyed both comments from you — I never thought of use vs mention til now. So I don’t think the fucks counted at all.


      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        Purely an AMATEUR linguist (a couple of graduate level courses and a lot of reading).

        I have actually managed to “correct” professional linguists, though, including Professor Geoffrey Pullum (if linguists had fans, I could probably be described as a fan), co-writer of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, on the use of the word “fuck” (see my comment on http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1608, where he replies “Jens is quite right: ever since fuck became a human-denoting noun (You’ve killed my Burmese python, you stupid fuck!), it has been possible for the fuck to occur in NP slots on a fairly broad basis. But not as a semantically inert pleonastic epithet with the affective function of conveying personal irritation.”).

        Another linguist that posts at the same site (“Language Log”) posted an article relating bad language to effective writing ( http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002978.html ). Since it was posted on a 1st of April, it should be taken with a grain of salt: “mean length of utterance” (MLU) is seriously used by linguists, but “length of mean utterance” only on April Fools’ Day.

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        Ooops – must apologize, misstated the facts. I did not actually correct Professor Pullum, that would be too much to hope for – I corrected somebody else in the thread, and Professor Pullum agreed.

  12. kristi
    kristi says:

    I don’t use the word in question either in speech or in my writing. I find it redirects the mind to the word I’m using and away from the point I’m making.

    My husband uses this word as if it were “the”. I notice how strangers change their opinion of him instantly, rightly or wrongly, as soon as he utters it.

    Personally, I’d rather have that shift come from the substance of what I’m saying, not the shock of it.

  13. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    My mom hates foul language (that’s what she calls the F word). I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say anything worse than bitch, and if she accidentally reads a book that uses the F word more than a few times we hear about how awful it is for weeks. When my parents sent me to boarding school at 14 and I came home with a colorful new set of vocabulary words (because really, what else is there to do at a boarding school? Well, besides drink I suppose) my mother was shocked.

    “Do you know how much we pay for you to learn words like that?” she’d say.

    But really, that was at precisely the same time she fell in love with The Sopranos.

  14. PamN
    PamN says:

    Really, what struck me even more than the use of the F word is that “the farmer” uses double negatives even though he knows better.

    I was married to my farmer for three years before we decided to actually move back to the farm. He never once used a double negative or bad grammar during that time. But almost as soon as we moved to the farm, he started with “don’t got no”, and “drownded” etc. What the f*** is that all about?

  15. Martha
    Martha says:

    My Mom said fuck is just a word. She then challenged me to think of more creative ways to express myself. She said, you sound uneducated when you say fuck over and over again. I think she was right, everytime I hear others say it repeatedly.

  16. Gary
    Gary says:

    That word is never creative. It’s only use is for attempted shock value. Too many hack comedians have no act without it.

    Synonyms for fuckable: enticing, hot, smokin’, bootylicious. I could think of more but ten seconds is more than enough time to expend.

  17. ash
    ash says:

    I’m a 36 year old woman in a man’s profession. I found that when the men started cussing in conversation with me (not at me) it meant I was accepted. Now sometimes to kick start rapport with a new group I will drop a minor swear word and take in the response. It can help people drop their guard. But if you degrade to being offensive, you’ve gone too far.

  18. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “god fucking dammit” is where I draw the line and it even scares me somewhat if I’m thinking or saying it because that’s when I know I’m losing control of the situation.

  19. Frank
    Frank says:

    You crack me up. I say fuck all the time, although I am judicious about where. Among my friends and co-workers, yes, although not around the conservative church-going types, or the clients/students. I take pride in knowing that the girls I’ve worked with, as well as my wife, who never used it before, now throw it around casually in often hilarious ways. A good friend of mine who NEVER cursed in high school but came out of the army cursing, wrote a song, “We say fuck a lot”. Check it out: http://www.johncerveza.com. You have to click on music and then the title. Yes, it’s a bit raw, but still pretty fucking funny.

  20. barbi
    barbi says:

    YAY! A blog on saying fuck!
    My favorite word and in certain instances the ONLY word! Penelope, just go into one of your barns and occasionally, and out of earshot, shout out and tell your farmer that he can take his woman out of New York, but he can’t take New York out of his woman. Not entirely!

    I, also from New York, got into serious trouble for saying such, as it happens at a horse farm (called New Hope) owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Moonies (aka the Unification-Church). One of his 16 children, a daughter, was an equestrienne on the Korean national team and daddy Moon built her a complex (in a forgotten corner of NY State) all to herself. For several years I kept my horse there and one very cold winter the local pony club moved in. Unfortunately the young riders rode like crazy little Disney characters wherever their all-white ponies fancied trotting, which made my large black Oldenburg very nervous. I was doing an extended trot on the diagonal and suddenly there, right in front of us, crossed one such ghostly pony. My horse jumped to the left while I headed on the diagonal as planned, causing us to part, me flying to the ground, and landing hard on my lower back.
    The word echoed across the cavernous arena bouncing of the 4500 aluminum spectator benches, lingering in the flags of every country, which hung dustily in the rafters.
    F U C K ! I shouted again. Adding: FUCKING PONIES EVERYWHERE!
    I got up but my back was not cooperating. Instead I stood bent in a downward-facing-doggish pose waiting for help. (Little did I know that saying FUCK within Unification-Church grounds was a crime punishable by death). A dozen (mothers of those out-of-control pony clubbing girls) mouth’s hung open. Their riding instructor passed the reigns of my horse to me as if she just handed me the gun with which I'd shot all her white ponies.
    The energy in the arena turned to shun, and quite possibly stoning was to follow.
    I stumbled to the stables, handed my horse to one sympathetic friend, grabbed a handful of snow, shoved it in a plastic bag, shoved the snow bag into my breeches and drove myself to the emergency room. I was flat in bed on a cocktail of muscle relaxers and Vicodin, a lovely vacation-like combination, for a week. As soon as I returned to New Hope I was summoned into "the office". A lecture about using “that word” followed. A week later I was called into the office again and got a second lecture about using "that word". A week after that I got my third lecture about "that word" (you get the picture). Was the manager giving me the Moony – repeat-after-me, over and over, bad word – bad word – bad word – treatment?
    The brainwash did not work and FUCK is still my favorite word.
    But yes, it’s demographics. Like if this had happened in the Hamptons, someone may have driven me to the ER. Because I know, for a fact, that in the Hamptons its OK to scream FUCK-YOU when some asshole in a vintage convertible Mercedes (red) steals a long awaited parking spot at the Citerellas parking lot. I’ve heard nice-looking mothers shout FUCK YOU ASSHOLE when a Porsche going 50 miles an hour brushes her Peg Perego stroller in the middle of the Newtown Lane zebra crossing, gay guys hiss SHUT THE FUCK UP when someone dares to speak in the movie theater. I’ve heard a fat new member of the Devon Yacht club yell WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU MOORED IN MY SPOT, and anyone will tell you that it was FUCKING awesome to run into Naomi Campbell at Scoop who was on her cell saying what a FUCKING asshole her driver turned out to be. Not to mention that the traffic is always FUCKING awful and the local corn the best FUCKING corn in the entire universe…

    So cheers to “fuck”, one of those words some of us can’t do without, and shouldn’t even try….

  21. P.F. Jennings
    P.F. Jennings says:

    There is a problem with using fuck ALL THE TIME in conversations, whether they are in print (like this) or in person or on the movie screen.

    The problem: it has almost no meaning. The person doing is sending a message (which has meaning) and the message is, “I don’t know many words, I’m not well educated, I didn’t never learn no manners, and I have no mental resources.”

    It’s laziness. Mental and social laziness.

    Once in a while it’s just the right thing, as in WTF — long form or short form.

    But using it frequently and commonly, that’s a sign of a mental and emotional laziness.

    Not admirable.

  22. swoonqueen
    swoonqueen says:

    This post is spot on (and, by the way, I’m thrilled that you’ve been blogging more regularly recently). I swear like a sailor, but rather judiciously so. For instance, I only use words I love to say in ways I love to say them. That means I don’t every say “shit” because I don’t like the word or its connotative images (same with “piss”). But I say “shucks” all the time, and forcibly– so much so that a little girl from our neighborhood *thought it was a swear word*. That, I believe, shows the power of using the right word at the right time.

    I rarely say “what the fuck?” because it doesn’t make sense to me. But I say “fuck” in every other employable way, and I love to say it. It’s slipped out a few times around the office to a raised eyebrow in reply– but I think people who use the word “fuck” or “fucking” sound far more intelligent than those who sub in “fudge!” or “frickin'” or (worst of all) “fracking.”

  23. Irv Podolsky
    Irv Podolsky says:

    The interesting thing about swearing, is that if you don’t know what the naughty word means, like all other words, it carries no significance, no intention, no power of any kind. So when it comes to that four-letter “C” word relating to women, we have to be taught that it’s a super no-no term reserved for the most aggressive confrontations or power insults. Problem is, if the Insultee doesn’t know what the Insulter means, not much insulting is going down. It’s stealth insulting which only make YOU feel good when you say it. We should have more of this kind of Do-No-Harm cursing.

    Let’s start with that bad-ass word, C**t. Let’s change the spelling but not tell anyone we’re doing it. Let’s call that body part, a futzah.

    “You stupid futzah!” Does that remark send a jolt of grief down your spine? Or does futzah remind you of something warm and furry? Futzah, futzah, futzah, futzah, futzah!!! THERE! I JUST OFFENDED YOU IN A BIG WAY! But you’d have to be German to take the hit, ’cause this cute sounding word, spelled phonetically, is the German equivalent of “C**t.

    Feeling the pain now, you cute, cuddly thing?


    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      “Futzah”? I believe the “r” is pronounced in most dialects, so “fooortzah” would be a better transliteration.

      I actually was in the situation of having somebody use the c-word and not knowing what it was. I’d only been speaking English for a little over 2 years, and simply had no education in the move vulgar vocabulary. Anyway, at school the previous best chess player was a bit flamboyant. Anytime he would make a move against me that he thought was especially telling, he would exclaim “Your mother’s cunt!”

      I realized he was expressing a certain enthusiasm, but didn’t have a clue about the actual meaning – I didn’t even scan it correctly, I heard “Your mother scunned!” Nobody would tell me what “scunning” was, but it didn’t much matter in the long run — he stopped playing against me when he realized he could almost never win.

      Such words lack charm in isolation, but they CAN be used creatively. For example, near the end of Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the king’s intended bride speaks in French with her maid, who speaks English, wanting to learn some basic English words – and it turns out that the English words “foot” and “gown” sound like French for “fuck” and “cunt”:

      “De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots de son
      mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les
      dames d’honneur d’user. Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots
      devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh! le
      foot et le coun! Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon ensemble: d’ hand, de fingres, de nails, d’arm, d’elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.”

      (my own attempt to translate: “The foot and the gown! O Lord God! Those words are the most foul, degraded, and rude, and not for an honorable lady to use! I don’t want to say those words in front of the lords of France for the whole world! Oh! The foot and the gown! Nevertheless, I’ll say my lesson once more all together:d’hand, de fingres, de nails, d’arm, d’elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.”)

  24. jerrad
    jerrad says:

    i like you use the word “fuck” a lot in everyday language, I personally think there is nothing wrong with it. Now i have been in some circles that have been asked why i say it so much and i have no idea.I think i like the boldness of it ,perhaps i like it because it seems universal like hell or damn.
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  25. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    It’s been totally making my week to see how much you’re posting all of a sudden.
    So, when is your son old enough to quit violin lessons? Your comment about it just now reminded me of when my parents for some reason let me quit ballet when I was, like, 6 years-old, and I don’t know why they let me but I don’t regret it to this day. They wouldn’t let me quit trumpet when I was in middle and high school, on the other hand, and I’ve never asked them about it but I imagine it had something to do with me being older, rather than younger, so that I was to be held more accountable for my commitments.

  26. A Novel Woman
    A Novel Woman says:

    Well, in many parts of Canada we’re a lot more relaxed about swearing in general, including using the word fuck. I live in Montreal where the main language is French, so fuck is not even considered that bad. I’ve even heard it used on newscasts on French channels. However, the French use church-related words as swear words, and the worst WORST word you can say (the equivalent to, say, the “c” word, which, funnily enough, is often bandied about in the UK like it’s no big deal) is “tabernacle” followed by “chalice” or “host” etc.

    Fast forward to a day where I’m getting my roof done. The French workers are on the roof and as I’m chatting to the contractor, one of the workers drops a roll of paper which comes crashing off the roof. The guy on the roof lets loose with a stream of profanity in French, along the lines of “pope’s ears votive candle nun calvary tabernacle chalice host damn.” The contractor looks stricken, then yells up to the man, in English, with no hint of irony, “Hey, watch your fucking mouth! The fucking lady is standing right beside me, for fuck’s sake.” Then he turns to me and apologizes for the other guy’s foul mouth.

    Ah, c’est la vie.

  27. Mark
    Mark says:

    wow, such positive response, and here I was thinking “i know I won’t quit reading her because soon she’ll write something good again,” but oh well, you know your audience.

  28. JR
    JR says:


    I am amazed that no one has commented yet on critical element of your post… I think every guy reading your blog would agree, you’re totally fuckable. I knew that from the first time I ever read your blog, years ago. Well before seeing your pic, which just cemented that opinion.

    It took self-restraint not to email a proposal when you were still in limbo, in New York.

    So yes, totally.



  29. Amy
    Amy says:

    I don’t have a problem with fuck, but I do have a problem with suck. People say it all the time and we both know they’re not referring to a piece of candy. I even heard an ad on the radio saying something sucked!! What the fuck??

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm.com

    • Irving Podolsky
      Irving Podolsky says:

      Dear Amy,

      Finally, somebody besides me remembers where “It sucks!” comes from. I was in college, my freshman year, when that remark came into common usage. But only a few years before, it was derived from “You suck!” as in, “You suck dicks!” meaning, “You’re a fag!” the worse thing you could say about a guy, if you were a guy. A straight guy. (Whatever that is.) Anyway, that was what part of the sixties, calling people Queers” and “N***ers.” It makes me cringe to think about it. And worse, it’s still going on today. So when I hear words like fuck and shit, it’s nothing to me because that kind of cursing is not about hate and fear. It’s about a coloring vocabulary. Or oral sex, which I heard stated a few years ago in the animated movie, “Kung Fu Panda.” “That sucks,” was spoken loud and clear, and I grinning thinking, yes, we should all have more of that.

      Irv Podolsky

      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        Well, that’s one possible meaning of “suck” as a cuss-word.
        The other possible derivation is from “Such-and-such sucks canal water,” or “So-and-so’s ass sucks canal water.” Nothing sexual about it — just an insult with overtones of bad personal hygiene.

  30. Sara
    Sara says:

    Nice job managing to fit in a discussion of William Safire, two pig photos, and a casual reference to Anna Karenina in a single blog post that is actually about the word fuck. I enjoyed that.

    One thing I think is interesting is how it’s perceived differently when a man says fuck (or curses a lot in general) versus when a woman says it. For example, Gary Vaynerchuck and other male personalities can swear a lot and have it looked upon as favorably, or at least as kind of a personality quirk. I can’t think of any women who do this and are thought of in the same manner. Maybe I just can’t think of any female personalities that curse a lot though, reality television stars aside.

  31. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    When I lived in Chicago, I said fuck all the time, everywhere I went. Chicagoans cuss and yell a lot, but I did not realize this until I moved to Saint Paul. I freaked out a lot of Minnesotans, and it took me a while to figure out what they were reacting to. So in order to stop conversations from shutting down, I gave up cussing. I suppose I am becoming a more articulate and creative communicator, since I don’t rely on fuck as a shortcut now. It helps me to funtion in this new place, but it is also a big part of my culture shock. And I really miss saying fuck.

  32. deadvoter
    deadvoter says:

    First of all, what does the use of the F word have to do with a career right now, except not to use it in a professional environment which is common sense.

    By using the F word you probably just got this site banned from being accessed by a lot of companies. Now you’ve just made it harder for your audience to reach you.

    When it comes to Joe Camel, you realize that teenage smoking is on the rise? Despite banning ads, warnings, etc.

    Please read the following book if you have not done so called Tipping Point – A study on how trends go viral.

  33. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    the magic of Penelope Trunk returns! the last 04 blog posts were so boring and preaching. And the one on ‘how to be interesting’ was awful.
    Does Gen Y and will Gen Z get to the point when the F word will part of everyday vocab and not actually be considered as foul language?

  34. Jonathan Browne
    Jonathan Browne says:

    Fuck yeah!

    Sometimes you just have to swear to effectively portray your emotion.

    Profanity evolved from the religious curses of Old England anyway. It’s not like theirs anything actually bad about it.

  35. Linda
    Linda says:

    I can swear like a trooper – which is pretty common among women of my socio-economic group in Australia. However, we use four letter words appropriately and with deliberation unless startled when fuck or shit appear to be natural expletives. I try not to swear in the car as it freaks out the kids because they know then that I am stressed. At work, I never swear at people or raise my voice on the floor ie with junior staff as this is simply a form of verbal violence – however it is surprising how many people do and get away with it. I reserve my use of these words at work to describe situations with my immediate staff who manage teams and with my colleagues and boss. I think it helps to call a spade a fucking shovel as it cuts to the chase. Sometimes it helps me too to describe particularly unhelpful people to these trusted persons as fuckwits.

  36. Chickybeth
    Chickybeth says:

    Knowing when to use swear words (not all the time and not everywhere) and not letting your kids swear in front of you are really a must to get along in society. Even though swearing doesn’t really hold any meaning for most people when they do it, if you see a child swear in front of (or at) their parents it is horrible. When I was growing up, the only kids who swore at their parents were the ones who were being abused and the whole family situation was just not good at all. Maybe teaching your kids that there is a time and places for swearing is the best thing you can do.

  37. MH Williams
    MH Williams says:

    I am an art teacher in a Title 1 public school. I have responded to a fuck you Ms.______ with a No, fuck you! Amazing what that did for my street cred in school. Did I get respect? Strangely, yes. Would I say it again? Perhaps.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I know this wasn’t the point of your comment but…
      I saw you mentioned Title 1 public school, and I thought: Hm. I don’t know what that is.

      So I did a little googling, and holy cow, my kids go to a Title 1 school. I can’t believe it.

      For those of you who don’t know what this is (maybe I’m the last person in the US to know?) it’s a school where at least 75% of the students qualify for free or reduced meals at school.

      I don’t know what I think about this. But it really makes me think. I’m surprised.


      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        So a Title 1 school is one with a large fraction of children from poor families.
        This brings up an issue that really chaps my hide. A lot of people, including the art teacher, use the term to refer to schools full of uncultured, ignorant children from dysfunctional families — children who use obscene language in school, who need special resource instructors to train them to act like civilized human beings, etc. In other words, they assume that poor people are automatically uncouth and stupid.
        That is bad enough coming from an ordinary citizen, but it is horrifying to see a teacher say it. With such low expectations from their teacher, its a wonder the kids learn anything.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Jim, I love this comment. I confess that now that I know what a Title 1 school is, I am nervous. But also, (please, I hope this is not racist, but I think it is, but I’m going to say it anyway) In my town, where I have not lived long, but I do know a little, there is a huge population of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. They are extremely ambitious for themselves and for their kids — I mean, just to get themselves here is huge. We are in the middle of nowhere, but I’m told it’s very safe here to be illegal.

          Anyway, I think being in school with kids like this is great for my kids. But I get scared. I also notice that there are a bunch of white farmers who own millions of dollars in land and animals and equipment, but all they want to do is raise kids to do what they do, and the kids see themselves never leaving, never having to get their own job, etc. So in my our city school, maybe it’s the families that make the school Title 1 that also make the school interesting and full of ambition.

          I don’t know. I am a little scared to post this comment. But I think I’m safe because comments don’t nest after this one :)


      • chris
        chris says:

        My kids go to a Title 1 Spanish language immersion school in Santa Monica. Bet you didn’t think there were any Title 1 schools in Santa Monica. :) I love that my daughter’s best friend lives in a 1 bedroom apartment next to the 10 Freeway with her parents and 3 siblings. Her reaction, “Maria and Juan have to sleep in the living room which means they have a TV in their BEDROOM! They are so lucky.”

        There is some REALLY interesting stuff happening at their school that you touch on in your comment. The whole immigration thing is super interesting and I like your perspective. My experience with immigrants (both legal and illegal) is that they are by-definition harder working as they had to work hard just to get here. Just saying

    • Tzipporah
      Tzipporah says:

      The art teacher mentioned the Title I status because she thought it was culturally relevant, not because she thinks they’re uncouth and ignorant. That’s YOUR assumption.

      The particular situation of the school – largely poor students – is important, culturally, for understanding the student’s use of “fuck” and the teacher’s response. I would be shocked to hear someone in my (university-associated) grade school use that, but less so where the local dialect includes such banter.

      If you can’t play the dozens, you should maybe reconsider judging a situation and teacher you don’t know.

  38. Brian King
    Brian King says:

    Penelope you are my new hero. I love your unapologetic, unfiltered way of sharing your view of the world. I am an adult Aspie and I am known for my diplomatic style in presenting my views.

    There are so many times I have strenuously bit my tongue when I wanted to say “What the Fuck were you thinking” and other choice variations. Having discovered your newsletter earlier this week I now look forward to them with great enthusiasm.

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