F-bomb you! What the F-bomb? Go F-bomb yourself.
With “F-bomb” now anointed to the sacred text of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it is — by definition — a conventional word, acceptable in any setting. It made the cut in August, one of 100 or so annual additions to the venerated linguistic institution, founded in 1898.
So what the fuck is wrong with this picture?
Here’s what: “F-bomb” blows. It’s ugly, overstated and, most of all, dated. “Fuck” hasn’t been a “bomb” for years, except to the Federal Communications Commission. In reality, it’s as bomb-like as a birthday candle. Even in the most polite circles, nobody says “F-bomb” if there’s a “fuck” handy.
Like it or not, “fuck” has gone mainstream. Deal with it, Merriam. You too, Webster.
How’s this for mainstream? When the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, second baseman Chase Utley leaned into the microphone at the citywide celebration at Citizens’ Park and proclaimed his team “the world fucking champions!”
I was there. It was glorious. The crowd went berserk, young kids included. Minutes later, they were still cheering. Local TV and radio stations that were live on the scene were less enthused, however, and apologized immediately on the air for their heinous oversight.
They had no choice, given the possibility of FCC fines. Wardrobe malfunction or the end of civilization as we know it, both can end up costing serious dollars. Utley later said he hadn’t planned on dropping the bomb. Informed just 10 minutes beforehand that he was going to speak, he said he decided to keep it “short and to the point.” Jackpot, dude. I wish this season’s Phillies had that kind of spunk.
The good people at Merriam-Webster say they traced “F-bomb” back to 1988, to a Newsday piece that said Mets catcher Gary Carter (R.I.P.) had given up the use of profanity, including, the reporter wrote, “the F-bomb.”
“F-bomb” exploded in 2004, thanks to Dick Cheney. When the former VP mixed it up with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, telling the gentleman from the great state of Vermont to go fuck himself, media outlets everywhere scrambled for the euphemism.
All except the Washington Post, which went for the full Monty, it said, because Cheney made the remark on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Against all odds, the republic survived.
Six years later, it was Joe Biden’s turn. (When isn’t it Joe Biden’s turn?) After introducing President Obama at the signing ceremony for the historic health-care bill, Biden said to his boss over an open mic, “This is a big fucking deal.” Out came the media “F-bombs.”
Now, thanks to Merriam-Webster’s official Seal of Approval, “F-bomb” will be the word of choice for the foreseeable future. Sanitized, neutralized, homogenized “F-bomb.” Another victory for political puritanism at the expense of meaning.
Understandably, broadcast-TV and radio stations won’t take chances with the FCC. But new media, and that oldest of dinosaurs, print, operate under different rules. It gives me hope that the newspaper of record in our nation’s capital dared to go the distance, and lived to tell the tale.
Bombs away, ‘F-bomb.’ Fuck you.