Here’s something interesting about me you’re probably not interested in knowing: If you talk to me face to face, you’ll rarely, ever, ever hear me curse. Call it habit, I guess. I was raised being taught not to curse, and for one reason or another, I listened. And I listened long enough so that by the time I realized even my parents curse more than I do, I still could’t do it. I’ll throw the odd curse word out on chance occasions (if, say, I feel a joke really requires it), but whenever I do, it’s like watching someone who never properly learned how to throw a baseball awkwardly trying to fling one into the air — it’s obvious they never had the adequate training. (Which, incidentally, is exactly how I look when I try to throw a baseball).
But in writing? Fuck yeah, I’ll curse. I curse all the goddamn time in my mind, actually, and thinking is just prose that isn’t written down. And as I was laying in bed last night, around midnight, tired as hell but unable to sleep, with my mind flinging from one random, pointless subject to another, I got to thinking — fuck really is the greatest curse word. And you know why? Because it’s a good word, period.
(Yes, this is the sort of thing I stay up nights thinking about, half-asleep, wishing either I could turn my brain off or summon the energy to at least write this shit down. The only thing more annoying than a racing mind at midnight is waking up the next morning to find the words have gone adrift as I slept. But back to the subject at hand…)
Strip away all the connotations and baggage it brings with it in modern life, and consider the word fuck clinically — as one of many options in your tool box. Assuming you have the proper taste and discipline to avoid overuse, you’ll find it always works just right whenever you turn to it. And not only is it ever dependable, but it also works wonders on a sentence when you plug it in. Fuck is like Adobo: cheap and resourceful, but always improves whatever it’s sprinkled on.
Perhaps an example is called for. Deadwood, a show that knows a thing or two about fuck, will be our source. Consider this line, said by Al Swearengen, while remarking about the various ailments afflicting him:
“Advancing years spare us no fucking indignity.”
One of my favorite lines in the show, a statement both simple and expressing a harsh, cruel truth. To begin with, it’s a classically well constructed sentence, following a basic rule: end on the word you want to emphasize. Notice how it sounds when rearranged in a couple of different possibilities:
“Indignity is not something advancing years fucking spare us.”
“We’re spared of no fucking indignity by advancing years.”
Weak, limp, dead in the water. Indignity is the point of this sentence, and burying it at the start or the middle robs it of all its power. Okay, now let’s look at fucking. First, see what happens when we take the word out:
“Advancing years spare us no indignity.”
Sure, still works… but there’s just something missing, isn’t there? It’s just kind of off-balance. And that “in-” sound — it’s like running into a wall, tripping you up. Fucking adds just the right counter-balance, turning the single word into a connected phrase, supplying the buffer to roll the tongue smoothly through the in- sound. Fucking indignity. And on top of that, it also makes it a hell of a lot more punchy. “Advancing years spare us no indignity” is a boring intellectual. “Advancing years spare us no fucking indignity” is the intellectual you can tell would be fun to be around.
But it’s not just the fact that it’s a curse word. Again, ignore whatever shock fuck still carries these days, and consider it simply as a word. Let’s look at another example, and see how punchy this sounds:
“Advancing years spare us no goddamn indignity.”
Also works, better than without any swear word, but still not ideal. There’s something about the word goddamn that stretches the sentence out. It sounds long. Which is curious, considering it’s a two-syllable word that takes the same amount of time to say as fucking. Funny how that works. Goddamn is like driving over two broad hills. Fucking is two sharp peaks stabbing into the sky.
I’d show examples of other curse words plugged in, but do any fit? “No crappy indignity” or “no shitty indignity” technically do, but shade the sentence with the wrong meaning. “No cocking indignity” is delightfully ridiculous, but that’s not what we’re looking for here. The lack of suitable substitutions shows just how fantastic fucking is. It’s the perfect gift from the writing gods. It has the perfect sound, the perfect lack of any specific meaning other than adding a vague yet undeniable hard edge to a sentence, and when you take it out of your tool box, it’s magically in the perfect shape for whatever you need: Fuck, fucking, fuckin’, fucker, motherfucker, fuck-stick, fuckhat, shitfuck, clusterfuck, un-fuck-believable. Un-fuck-believable! Fuck is so good, you can put it inside other words and make them better.