Magazine | January 28, 2019, Issue

Effusions of Effrontery

There is a naughty word beloved by the Cursing-American community. You know what it is, and you have heard it. You might have said it upon emerging from the grocery store to see your car scratched by someone who left a card.

In the hierarchy of curse words, it stands atop the rest. Why? If you call someone “a feckless fickle factotum whose folk forked off from the French Focht family,” no fool would fight you. But say the F-word and you’ve thrown a bucket of napalm on a campfire.

There are two other very bad words that ought not to be used because of their role in racial and gender relations, but the effenheimer, to use one of its anodyne cohorts, is King-Hell Double-Damn Bad. Its day is coming, though; we’re about a year, at most, before some B-grade celebrity hosting the New Year’s Eve show blurts it out after three tequilas and someone in the producer’s booth realizes there’s no delay. It just went out. All over. Nationwide.

“Doesn’t matter,” the producer will sigh. “It had to happen. It was time.”

For years I worked for an editor who was famously profane. She not only swore like a sailor, she swore like a sailor who was mad at the original sailor who swore like a sailor. This discourse was reserved for the newsroom. The idea that the effer would be printed in the paper — well, are you effin crazy? We have effin standards to uphold, for eff’s sake. This was because she, like most adults, made a distinction between private and public discourse and believed that the latter should aspire to some effin standards that ennoble us all, even the effwads.

Ah, those were the days. Now that the gatekeepers are dead, their heads on pikes, and the public debate is set by social effin media, the authentic speech of the effin people has effin set the new mothereffin standards. So there was great rejoicing when newly elected congressperson Rashida Tlaib (D., obviously) encouraged the new Congress to “impeach that motherbleeper.”

The response on the left was threefold.

1) “Dick Cheney said something bad to someone on the Senate floor, so you can’t complain.” Well, yes; it was a private conversation. It’s possible that LBJ once took a senator aside and said, “If you don’t vote for this, well, dang you all to heck, you poopyhead.” But no one is surprised to learn that politicians use blue lingo when the microphones are off.

2) “Donald Trump said that thing about grabbing women in the . . . the kitty-cat part!” Well, yes; that’s because he was trying to impress the interviewer and camera crew by demonstrating what a swingin’ Richard Rooster man he was. If the Left now wishes to excuse gutter lingo because Donald Trump speaks crudely, well, fan-effin-tastic, but that means that they’re fine with tossing out the norms they previously clutched to their bosom. Or they were just feigning outrage.

It’s possible they were feigning outrage.

3) This is a diversion! “No one is actually offended by rashida tlaib’s curse word,” tweeted Liz Bruenig. “Nobody actually cares. People are mad she’s a muslim woman on the left.”

Oh, you got us there. If a Catholic wo­man makes a speech calling for the nationalization of all industry and confiscation of all income above the poverty line, conservatives say, “Hang on there, hear her out, she believes in Jesus.

Said another very serious Twitterperson: “The language is validating, real, brave and inspiring. Manners are often used to silence dissent and enshrine the current power structure.” Yes, that’s why your mom told you to sit up straight. Don’t slouch! It weakens the power structure!

4) “You’re outraged by this? By this?”

Filmmaker Adam Best offered this equivalent of Churchill’s blood-sweat-and-effin-tears speech: “We’ll stop saying bleepitybleep when bleepitybleep Border Patrol stops letting kids die and Flint has clean bleepitybleep water” and more, including fighting “bleepitybleep climate change.”

Well, I suspect you’d keep saying it anyway. If all those things were solved, and someone said, “Hey, eff the mothereffin police,” it’s doubtful Mr. Best would put a finger to his lips and say, “Hey, hey, now, none of that, Flint water tests show a marked decrease in lead.”

5) “That’s racist.”

At the heart of it all you find the adolescent fury about hypocrites. The phonies, man. They say the word themselves but get like mad when someone says it in church. Yes, dear child, exactly. For the same reason you don’t wear a thong and nothing else to Mass. For all you know the priest is wearing one under that robe. That’s utterly irrelevant. It’s the notion of public decorum and standards we wish to preserve. The future is not a boot stamping on a human face, as 1984 predicted; it’s Ronald McDonald on the TV telling kids to get their effin butts down to effin McDonald’s for a mothereffin Happy Meal now, I mean, eff me, whadda I gotta effin do for you effers.

But it will be authentic, the Left insists. The demotic has its own truths, and they cut through the heavy wet quilt of oppression. The Right insists that if you can’t cook a meal without drowning every bite in hot sauce, you’ve nothing subtle or profound to offer. You’re just ranting.

In which case, eff you. By your standards, that ends the argument.

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