I was almost 35 years old the first time I ever said the f-word. Aloud, that is. Before that, I’d said it maybe a few times in my head (I was raised to believe that nice girls just did not talk that way, so even the thinking-it number is low), but it never actually came out of my mouth before then. And when it did, it was a surprising relief. I had been in a brainstorming session with a few men I worked with, all really good guys. One of them used the word and then immediately turned to apologize. “Don’t f**king worry about it,” I replied with a shrug before realizing it. Everyone laughed, me loudest of all at the utter joy of no longer feeling constrained. And a door opened.
Hopefully I’m not offending anyone here. I’m not talking about berating or telling someone off using the word. I’m certainly not talking about using it in front of children. And I’m not even talking about using it in front of people whom I know are sensitive. But sometimes even I, who make my living using words carefully, cannot help but succumb to the pleasure that comes from an occasional, well-placed f-word at the right time and in the right place (usually said aloud to myself). To wit:
As a noun “What the f**k!” is the perfect exclamation when finding out that the six hours I had just put into writing part of my book were a waste (after one errant keystroke deleted my work forever because I hadn’t hit “save” and neither had my old computer done it automatically). Also useful for when you cut your finger instead of the apple you’re paring, when your refrigerator dies immediately after you’ve restocked it with perishables, or when you live in an apartment and miss the UPS delivery person (whom you have to let into the building), thereby resigning yourself to six more weeks of wintry package tracking.
As an adjective Nominees for the award for best use of the f-word as an adjective go to Marisa Tomei’s character, Mona Lisa Vito, in My Cousin Vinny and Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Susie Diamond, in The Fabulous Baker Boys. When her forever-fiancé Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) still has trouble admitting that she could be a huge help to him in winning even more cases (after she helped him win this one), Mona Lisa says, “… You have to say thank you. Oh, my God, what a f**king nightmare!” Frankly, the line wouldn’t be the same without the word in it. (Say it both ways and see for yourself. It helps if you have a New York accent, big hair, and a tight dress on at the time.) In Susie’s case, she is having microphone trouble onstage. When told to turn on the switch that will make the mic go live, she says, in frustration, “What f**king switch?” just as, you guessed it, the mic goes live. After Beau Bridges, as one of the fabulous duo, later chides her for using that language, she retorts, “I said it. I didn’t do it!” Come on, that’s good.
As an adverb “Are you f**king kidding me?” (the f-word modifies the verb, as any good adverb does) is really the only way to respond to that guy who cuts you off on the freeway (caution: it must only be said within the confines of your car, without moving your lips — otherwise road rage might ensue). Or try it when you’ve been on hold for three hours waiting for some representative (from the phone company, for example) and then you’re disconnected. By the phone company. The people who are supposed to excel at phone connections. You get my drift.
I love when people who may have the (old) impression of me as being the quiet type are delighted to find out that I’m really quite animated. When people who knew me as a shy teenager are surprised to find out just how outgoing I am now. And when people who have always thought of me as a reserved Ms. Goody Two-Shoes are astounded to know that there’s a little bit of bad girl running around inside my head. She’s fresh, she’s fierce, and she’s that other f-word.
© 2021 Claudia Grossman