“Fucking” is a Poor Intensifier

“Fucking” is a poor an intensifier in written non-fiction.

My objection is not one of prudishness but one of good usage. I don’t approve of using “very” as an intensifier, either (or really, or so). Saying something is “fucking unbelievable” is no better than “very unbelievable”; both lack imagination and weaken one’s prose. In the crowded blogosphere, prose with muscle is more likely to attract readers than flabby and/or overused intensifiers.

Readers depend on writers to rant with vivid language.

I think “fucking” has lost its vividness due to overuse. It’s lost its meaning and punch. Like love handles on hips, it’s flabby padding rather than taut flesh.

Lest I be written off as a member of the grammar police, I’m not. Language lives and changes with its users. Neologisms arrive (sexting, localvore) and antiquated words fade (mooncalf, quidnunc). Usage changes, too, as exemplified by the gender-neutral singular they.

Just as there’s a time and place for sex, there’s a time and a place for “fucking” in the text.

Certainly, it belongs when quoted as in, Luskin objects “to the current trend of using ‘fucking’ as an intensifier in written non-fiction.” You must use the word if you’re quoting someone else, and unlike on broadcast media, the word doesn’t have to be “bleeped” in print.

Another justified usage occurs when you’re writing fiction and it’s the language of your narrator or characters, in which case, let it rip! Some people say fucking as often as others say like, almost as a nervous tic.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of audience.

I’m sure that some of the writers who overuse “fucking” as their intensifier of choice have readers who don’t give it a second thought. But writers who want to reach an audience that includes people they don’t know, as well as people who might not agree with them, it’s better to state your ideas with clarity and precision. Personally, I want people to read what I write and object to what I say rather than to the language I’ve used.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Her work can be found on Vermont Public Radio and on her website, where she blogs about her rural life in Living in Place and about middle age in The Middle Ages. Her award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, is a love story about two sixty-somethings, set in Vermont in 1964.

29 thoughts on ““Fucking” is a Poor Intensifier

    • I’d say same rules apply: Quote someone saying it, use it in fiction, say it aloud to your friends. I’d be less inclined to use it in an op-ed piece or expository or narrative non-fiction.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  1. Interesting choice of quidnunc! That’s the name of my former Girl Scout Camp. I use it all the time! Not so archaic to me, although sometimes I feel a bit archaic myself!

    • Hi Kathy, I think naming a girls’ camp quidnunc definitely reflects the gender assumptions of the time. We’re getting old! – Thanks for your comment.

    • Camp Quidnunc?! I just looked up this word (might be archaic but it’s new to me) and I had to laugh when I read your comment. That wasn’t very nice — no matter how many nights I spent at GS camp too busy talking to sleep.

  2. This is a fantastic blog post, both informative and emotive. The subject of language choice fascinates me. I personally do not object to any language usage, it’s not my place to determine how a person decides to communicate. One of the things that fascinates about your article is that you openly accept that a character as a part of their voice could and should (perhaps) use this term, and yet you seemingly struggle to accept that a writer/blogger should have a similar voice. Many assumptions are made in regards to swearing such as; lack of education, lack of vocabulary, cultural difference (class) the list is pretty endless. I agree that like all words some are over used, this specific term certainly not being the only one. I wonder have you considered that ‘good English’ is in fact English that is understood by the widest audience….it would seem to me very few people struggle with understanding this term. I wonder also whether you have considered that many bloggers and writers express their creativity on a more personal level, using a voice that is identifiable by their audience. Interesting fact for you, please feel free to Google it, when we swear we are accessing a different part of our brains to which language is expressed, the part of our brains we access is responsible to stress…swearing relieves stress, so it could be considered that actual usage of swear words has nothing to do with a lack of education, vocabulary or ability and everything to do with self regulation of stress. :-)I do hope you didn’t mind me commenting. 🙂

    • She did say, “But writers who want to reach an audience that includes people they don’t know, as well as people who might not agree with them, it’s better to state your ideas with clarity and precision.”

      I guess it depends on your target audience. If you limit yourself to readers who do not mind the use of such words, then why not? Not everyone enjoys reading posts that are meant only to relieve stress.

      I do agree with you that the usage of swear words does not necessarily reflect lack of education. It’s just a matter of using them at the right place, at the right time with the right (target) audience.

      • Yes she did, Therese, you are correct. She stated ‘But writers who want to reach an audience that includes people they don’t know’ I’m not entirely sure what it is she is suggesting in this comment and bring in to question her clarity and precision, is she suggesting that any blogger or writer that makes the choice to use this specific profanity is only going to be followed/admired from those people they already have a relationship of some kind with? Does she have proof of this? I can provide contradictory evidence of this argument. I am also struggling with this one, ‘as well as people who might not agree with them’ does she mean that people who read and appreciate or have enough intelligence to read around profanities don’t have the… capacity? intelligence? knowledge, confidence? to disagree. This is interesting that she believes that followers of blogs/authors that enjoy the profanity lack an ability to communicate in any way other than to follow.

        Yes target audience is in fact imperative to the usage of this term, which makes me wonder why so many people believe themselves to be in a position where by they can openly devalue another artists work based upon their own elitist beliefs. ‘ both lack imagination and weaken one’s prose. ‘ opinion that is unfounded and not backed up with any evidence other than the authors beliefs. I think it is also worth pointing out that not all authors are writing with only the aim to up their followers, some writers write because their souls scream out to place words on the page, these writers are not doing it for fame, they write so people can read it.

        There are enough people in this world for us to share this ‘blogosphere’ without judgement. My target audience are the people that fear picking up a book because they will need to grab a dictionary alongside it, my target audience are those that are routinely ignored within the literature world.

        The biggest problem we have with literature is not the illiterate but the elitist authors that believe the page is a sacred script reserved for them alone. That any author that dares to use syntax that is aimed at an audience that is searching for escapism that is not currently offered in mainstream writing is some how below them, their writing invalid because they use an intensifier that you don’t like.

        Interestingly, i’m a poet and I happily use profanity in my writing as and when I feel it is required. I have not used a single profanity to get across my point whilst communicating with you, the author, aiming to sensationalise her post managed to use the term eight times, repeating it over and over as a redundant intensifier.

      • Thank you for replying to my comment.

        I don’t like elitism in literature myself, but ….

        I’m not speaking for her but only for myself when I say that when I’m reading a literary work, I can’t really separate the (aspiring) writer and the reader in me.It’s either I like the piece of writing or I don’t. If a writer is writing about a character who uses profanity, then as a reader and writer, I would like to hear that tone in what I’m reading. But I think a writer should also be able to adopt different kinds of tones/voices of different kinds of people. I would find it extremely boring to read the same kinds of stories or rants from the same person. It would be like living with a nagging parent or spouse.

    • Hi Blossom,
      Thanks for all your thoughts and feedback. I especially enjoyed learning that swearing and stress have a neurological connection. However, no where in my post did I imply a connection between swear words and lack of education. I hold a PhD and I swear frequently and mightily – though not often in print, especially not in non-fiction, unless I’m quoting someone or making a specific point that can’t be made any other way. Fiction is another story, and you are right in broadening that to include poetry and first-person creative writing. Thanks for that clarification.

      While I think you do make a good point about language and elitism, I don’t think it’s germane in this particular instance – on “a blog by professional writers about the craft and business of writing.” This post (only 350 words long) is about the specific use of a word as an intensifier. And while I use the word in question eight times, I never use it as an intensifier, which is the single point I’m making here.

      It seems that I hit a nerve with you, which has deepened the conversation. And as much as I believe that it is a writer’s obligation to be as clear and specific as possible, I also know as a reader, that we all bring our own beliefs to a text, and that is beyond a writer’s control.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. All best, Deborah.

  3. Yes, the word has been over done and it’s over use has made it meaningless. To me it’s also a sign of a lazy writer. A million words in the English language and that’s the best you can do? I expect more from a writer than just throwing around f-bombs to get attention.

    Now, if you’re writing fiction and this is the way your character talks, then we have a different conversation.

    • The English language is indeed rich in words, which means there’s always a precise one if a writer is willing to find it. Thanks for this comment.

  4. Say what you will Deborah but that word seldom appears as a tagline in my inbox so you certainly got my attention, probably something to do with British sensitivities…Time for tea, I think

  5. Apparently I’ve been lacking in those articles and books that use the word “fucking” but I am irritated at the tag lines on Facebook. In those, it isn’t just the “ing” but the word “Fuck” that seems to be everyone’s favorite attention grabber. Come on people, even those who don’t mind hearing it are ready to bop the thesaurus on your head! For me, an intense moment of feeling brings on the “fucking” but it’s because I rarely use it in my language. I will keep this in mind when I feel the need to splurge.

    • Thanks for this comment. I especially like the image of using a printed book as a weapon – it seems so quaint in this electronic age!

  6. When people either in the world of writers or actors etc lose the passion for creative words and prose that impacts.. they often drift to the ‘common’ agenda. Then the word becomes so overused it loses all impact and even becomes a bit of a joke. Billy Connolly is a perfect example of this. Years ago he was funny….He had a natural talent. Also he was a brilliant orator and featured in many films etc. its sad today to find so many people remember him for the old man who constantly used the ‘fuck’ word. Its worth thinking about for all writers particularly. What do you want to be remembered for in your literature?. ie impact, diction, violence use of good words, A fresh variety of style…..your own voice not relying on what ‘was trendy’ ‘marketable’ in someone else’s world.
    A few thoughts. Personally my goal is to be ‘different’ yet remain real. Enjoy writing its a gift!

  7. This has been quite an interesting word topic! I’d not given the matter of using this word as an intensifier any thought! In all my writing so far, I am pleased to say my topics have not gone by that way of the shock factor! Thank you Deb for that discussion. It’s like listening to NPR… you learn lots of new things by tuning in!

  8. i dont knw why people think its cool to use this F word repeatedly. it has stopped making sense i mean when you are extremely happy u use it and same word when you feel miserable. confused abusive expression.

  9. Pingback: stop using this F word! | invisiblefireflies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s