I remember a stupid conversation I had some thirty years ago with a colleague. A very dull but popular film was showing locally and my colleague insisted it was outstanding. Why, I asked. “Because for the first time ever in a major film, the word ‘fuck’ is used” he told me.
I thought of his absurd answer when I read an Anonymous response I got to yesterday’s blog: “Why would an intelligent, educated man like yourself want to use such a pitiful, senseless word that seems to have spread like a virus in everyday speech?” An interesting question.
In an essay in the 1940s, George Orwell noted that several decades earlier, the use of the word ‘bloody’ was considered daring in educated society but was now widely used. He predicted that the word ‘----‘ (that’s what he called it) would one day become equally common among the educated classes. As usual, Orwell was right. Visit Queen’s University or the University of Ulster and listen to the conversation of undergraduates: the word ‘fuck’ is used as a noun, verb, adjective, dangling modifier – it peppers what they say like measles. As my blog critic says, the word is used widely and senselessly.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to effect. In the mid-1960s, I remember having a conversation with Brian Friel. He was loud in his criticism of the novel Billy Liar, enormously popular at the time, because the word ‘bloody’ was used far too often. Swear words, he insisted, should be used sparingly, for maximum impact.
I agree. Excessive use of the word ‘fuck’ dilutes its impact so it no longer becomes a weapon worth using. But there are occasions when it’s valuable and yesterday’s blog was one such. Confronted with the breath-taking bias of RTÉ’s Eleventh Hour panel in their response to the leaders’ debate, I found myself struggling for words to convey my outrage. Anger is best channelled, especially with an element of humour, I find. And so I wrote the blog, using the word ‘fuck’ twice and the acronym ‘ wtf ' three times.
So there’s my answer, Anonymous. I don’t think the word in question is senseless or pitiful, if used properly. There’s no such thing as bad language, only language used inappropriately, and the judgement language of 'The Eleventh Hour' 's panel was somewhere between inappropriate and inane. RTÉ’s betrayal of its role as a public service broadcaster demanded a full-frontal, Anglo-Saxon-word response.