How to use the F-word

Yesterday’s Doonesbury:

Absurdly poor advice, but Trudeau knew that. (To start with, speech doesn’t have commas in it; commas are visual marks.) Still, lots of people think that using fuck is just a matter of plugging it in whenever the mood strikes you, while in fact in addition to its use as a copulatory verb (itself a topic of some complexity), fuck functions as a little grammatical word, with a syntax as complex as other little grammatical words — so, for, too, etc. Plus, of course, all sorts of sociocultural conditions on when it’s appropriate.

The world of fuck is so intricate that lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower was able to create an entire book-sized dictionary devoted to it: The F Word, now in its 3rd edition. But because of its focus, that impressive work doesn’t treat the syntax of the word as much as a grammarian would want. For some preliminary explorations in that direction, see my 12/27/17 posting “Expletive syntax…”, an inventory of some constructions involving expletives, incuding the canonical expletive, fuck.

Of course, nobody learns how to use fuck from a dictionary or from papers by syntacticians. Like everything else, you pick it up in daily life. If you’re a soldier, you pick military usage up in the barracks, in the field, and so on.

One Response to “How to use the F-word”

  1. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky takes a look at how, exactly, one learns to use the F […]

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