Apr 17, 2019

What the f---? The f-word goes mainstream

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Suddenly the f-word is everywhere: Two presidential candidates. A Supreme Court case. Bookstore bestsellers.

Why it matters: A casual, ever-coarser culture has embraced a word that once shocked, and now bores. The ultimate epithet is now everyday conversation. And we've lost a surefire device for cutting through life's white noise.

The tone comes from the top: Back during the 2016 campaign, a New York Times editor wrote a column responding to "an onslaught of reader mail" after the "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced: "Printing Donald Trump’s Vulgarities."

  • In March, during two-hour remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump twice used "B.S." (only not abbreviated) in referring to investigations of him. The White House transcript faithfully recorded it.

The curse is now commonplace. Just this week:

  • Olivia Nuzzi writes in a New York magazine cover story about Mayor Pete: "I asked Buttigieg if he was afraid he would [eff] this up." He replied: "Anytime you’re in a position of responsibility, you’re afraid of [effing] it up."
  • During Supreme Court oral arguments on Monday in a trademark and First Amendment case involving the clothing line FUCT, Chief Justice John Roberts daintily described it as the "vulgar word at the heart of the case," per AP.

And the internet loved it back in November, when Beto O'Rourke said on live TV, during his concession speech for U.S. Senate in Texas:

  • "I'm so [effing] proud of you guys."

For 121 weeks (and continuing next weekend), the N.Y. Times bestseller list for advice books has included "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life," by blogger Mark Manson.

  • Manson's message: Positive thinking is overrated.
  • "F**k positivity," he writes. "Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it."
  • "Not giving a [f---] does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different."
  • The paperback is coming in January, prolonging our f-storm.

Back in December, Slate asked: "Why Are There So Many F**king Best-sellers Right Now With F**k in the Title?"

Go deeper: Rashida Tlaib's profanity got 5 times more cable coverage than Steve King

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