The most versatile word in the English language starts and ends just like fire truck. It just doesn’t include all those unnecessary consonants, spaces, and vowels in the middle. This versatile word can be a noun, a verb, an adverb, adjective, and probably a dangling participle. It can be used in a sentence without any other words and is also an exclamation, a really good one.

That same word is also considered to be the most vulgar of all the vulgar words we recognize. In A Christmas Story, Ralphie uses the word in front of his dad and anticipated death upon arriving home. He gets his mouth washed out instead.

Vice President Joe Biden used it in a whisper to President Barack Obama next to a live microphone just before the president signed health care reform into law on Tuesday.  He got called “potty mouth” on CNN.

My father only rarely used the word but could never bring himself to say it at conversational volume. He would invariably drop the sound level just a bit, probably in case his mother was listening.

Vulgarity itself is a strange phenomenon. We have set aside a small number of words over the centuries that are forbidden in polite company. Most of the words are natural functions we don’t admit to having to be involved with. The rest originate from either early religious beliefs or witchcraft. Some have become accepted over the years and can be used on television while a few others are still taboo, except on Showtime.

The most baffling thing about profanity is how we can use synonyms for each forbidden word and not get chastised. Each substitute means exactly the same as the profane word yet a ten-year-old can utter the replacement without a slap upside the head.

No one has satisfactorily explained to me how this is possible. If a word, any word, is so vile that it is forbidden to be spoken then the idea must be as vile, and also forbidden. But that’s not the case.

Word number one on the profanity top ten has substitutes in many of its various forms. You can say fudge, phooey, or foot. You can reproduce, multiply, beget, or copulate. In more recent years, freak and frig have also become fashionable as adjectives.

To screw things up even more, the word most used as a substitute for the real, profane word, is now almost as versatile as the original. How screwy is that? But none of that is as irritating as the latest effort to say it without saying it.

The letter F, coupled with an ing, is now gaining popularity in regular conversations. I even heard effing during the NCAA basketball tournament. This despicable non-word is surfacing more often and I don’t like it. It is a weasel word, not worthy of utterance. It is getting widespread use as we relax our standards, get away from moral clarity, and become more progressive. It is time to draw the line.

Can’t we either use the real word, a fine, versatile, worthy word, or be forced to make our point in a completely different way. As we usher in a brave new world, isn’t it time we address swearing. The practice is either right or wrong, but we should no longer accept a compromise. Either the idea is unworthy of mention along with the actual word or both are benign.

No more freaking synonyms.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.