Why I don’t use the F word
Everywhere you go, it’s F-ing this, F-ing that…
In the street, on the telly, even in the social streams of freelance copywriters.
Am I really the only one under the age of 99 that this is grating on?
I mean, what the F is going on?
Rewind a few decades to the slightly less F-y era of Dave Allen.
If you aren’t aware of Dave Allen, he wrote and starred in hugely successful comedy sketch shows that ran through the ’60s and ’70s.
He was a cool, laid-back master storyteller. He delivered his stand-up skits between the sketches sitting on a bar stool with a glass of whiskey (actually, it was ginger ale) in hand. He poked fun at religion and for their time, ‘Tonight With Dave Allen’, ‘The Dave Allen Show’ and ‘Dave Allen at Large’ were edgy as well as funny.
At the end of every show, he signed off with what I always thought was a brilliant catchphrase – “Good night, thank you and may your God go with you”. After half an hour of Pope-baiting, it made you warm to him and it particularly appealed to my pluralistic tendencies.
So, I was excited to see him live at The Aldwych Theatre in 1991.
He was pretty funny, but I came out thinking that if only he’d dialled down the expletives, he’d have been even funnier.
There’s no doubt, like an exclamation mark, the odd swear word has power. This is something that Dave Allen said himself in defence of his use of ripe language, “I am Irish and we use swearing as stress marks”.
But! The! Point! Is! You! Can! Have! Too! Much! Of! A! Good! Th!ing!
Contrast Dave Allen’s stand-up style with Ross Noble’s and you’ll know what I mean. I’ve had the pleasure of being ‘Nobled’ on a couple of occasions. Both times, I thought I might die in an asthmatic, tear-sodden heap. The man’s a comedic genius and unlike the majority of live comedy I’ve seen, he hardly gets much bluer than the occasional “FLIPPIN’ ‘ECK!” There’s so much in his comedy arsenal that there’s hardly any room left for Fs and Bs.
A lot of F-ing words
The Oxford English Dictionary reckons there are 171,476 English words currently in use and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (combined with its 1993 Addenda Section) includes 470,000 entries. Only one of them has four letters, begins with F and rhymes with Muck.
So why do some people insist on using it in every sentence?
Personally, I use the F word once every 6 months or so – usually when quoting someone else. It just sounds ridiculous coming out of my mouth. As soon as I say it, I’m already telling myself off, like a stiff-collared, Presbyterian Great Uncle. I’ve never had my mouth washed out with soap and water, but it was regularly threatened during my childhood; maybe that’s where it all stems from.
The F word really isn’t for me. Most of the time it makes intelligent people sound stupid and stupid people sound stupiderer. It’s aggressive and unsavoury, but the curious thing is, some of us can get away with it.
Danny Dyer uses the F word all the time, but there’s an obvious gentlemanly-ness and intelligence about the ‘geezer’ that softens the blow. Never mind his hilarious Brexit rant, I saw him on Would I Lie To You recently and he F’d, U’d, C’d and K’d his way through the show like a rum-soaked sailor, but I still thought he was totally lovable. Maybe it’s the gorblimey accent or his actor’s delivery; whatever it is, he’s an F-ing diamond in my book.
And when Peter Kay said “F***-a-duck” in episode 4 of Car Share: series 2, I giggled like a good’un.
So, I am by no means getting all Mary Whitehouse on everyone (well, perhaps a little bit), saying that we should round up and cull all the F-ers. But like jelly wrestling at 6.30 on a Thursday night in Billericay, there’s a time and place for everything.
Here are a few instances when I think freelance copywriters shouldn’t be F-ing about:
1) When trying to make yourself sound ‘ard
2) When trying to make yourself sound big and clever
3) When trying to make something sound funny that isn’t already
4) When trying to impress a potential employer.
And when it comes to my own writing, here are my golden rules:
1) There’s no F in social media
2) There’s no F in copywriting (unless reviewing Danny Dyer playing Dave Allen in the latest Tarantino movie – then it’s foffywriting all the way)
3) There are three Fs in ruffling feathers and if you’re smart you won’t need any more to do the job.
And if you disagree, you know what you can do.
Read more on language, its usage and abusage here: