The Confusing Message of “Not Giving a F**k”

We’ve worn out a lot of words in the last five years. “Awesome” used to mean “fall on your knees, drooling, in fear or amazement.” Now it ranks around “OK” (or to use the common term, “K”) or just a shrug. We’ve also bleached out the meaning of “basically,” “literally,” “absolutely,” and “good job,” usually accompanied by a high-five if said to a child under the age of six.

This image is often seen with the phrase, "this kitten does not give a f**k"

This image is often seen with the phrase, “this kitten does not give a f**k”

Watching how Americans use English is something that fascinates me (but is not “a passion” of mine–we wore out passion when we brought it into the office and substituted it for “mildly interested.”)

Culturally, we are now wearing out the F-bomb. I will freely admit to being a bit stodgy about using this word freely. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’ll confess that I didn’t use it at all until I was about 23 years old. There were two reasons:

1. For me, it was a shocking, violent word best associated with rape, darkness, and the opposite of love. (Your results may vary.) I also had to say “Cheese and rice” in the homes of my Catholic friends, instead of naming the Christian deity’s son outright.

2. The F-word was considered vulgar, and writers (particularly women writers) were encouraged to use move vivid, powerful, and vibrant words. It made for lively combinations of adjectives, adverbs and interjections. It made me an excellent collector of exciting phrases that would pass the editor’s inspection and still allow the reader to know what we meant.

We use f**k  so commonly that we have made up substitutes that are used in zappa3even the most proper corporate meeting: “freaking” came first, and sounded quite harmless, so we upped it to “fricking.” And then we just forgot about talking around it and went right for the f-word.

Note: Many of my friends use the word frequently. I do not correct them. Nor am I shocked. Loving language is more about observation than being the f**k police.

What does interest me is the adaption of the phrase “Not giving a f**k” and its best friend “Not a single f**k was given that day,” to mean two different things entirely. (Google the phrase, then click on images. NSFW).

You would think (or at least I did) that “not giving a f**k” would mean not caring, indifference,  not being involved in an outcome, having an ability to walk away from any situation.

It may mean that in some circles, but it also means being so sure of yourself that you don’t care what other people think. You are rooted firmly in your values. Now, that’s a use I find interesting.  Mark Manson described this meaning in an article on January 8, 2015. Yes, “giving a f**k” means caring, but that’s the point–he discusses why caring too much can drain your focus of what you should be caring a lot about. And on those issues we care deeply about, well, then you give a big f**k.

Here’s what Manson says: “Indeed, the ability to reserve our fucks for only the most fuckworthy of situations would surely make life a hell of a lot easier. Failure would be less terrifying. Rejection less painful.”

What all this means is that indifference breeds drama, and drama is empty of power and force. Caring about others, choosing to protect what is important to you, well, that is what we want to give a f**k about.  An interesting twist of events.

And finally, because I’m worn out from clicking on all those asterisks, here is a poem I found about living that life of deep caring, real coherence and authenticity. Without once using the f-bomb.

I found this poem on The Practical Mystic, credited to The Awakening Woman Institute.

You are the well-trodden, dusty tracks of habit
and you are a freedom so brilliant it brings
deities to their knees.

You are the hesitation and the mistrust that make us
so desperately cling to the plastic replicas of who we are,
and you are the ache of the real calling us from the other side of risk.
You are that mystical courage
that makes us get up and out of bed each morning, despite it all.

Achingly beautiful, dull, exhilarating,
horrendous, paradoxical, cosmic, dense,
dark matter and radiance beyond measure.
Here is your world.
Here it is.

You have been so busy creating walls,
squeezing your tail and your wings
into this digestible hand-me-down dress,
trying so very hard to compartmentalize the
unfathomable wilderness that you are.

There is no action, no withholding,
no sprouting or rotting,
no lover or predator,
no loser or hero,
no wound nor victory
that is not you.

Here is your world.
Here it is.

:: Chameli Devi

–Quinn McDonald is careful what she cares about. Language is right up at the top of the list.

Warning: If you use the spelled-out f-word in your comments, the comment will automatically go to spam. I’ve been a blogger for eight years now, and that control is a comfort.

 

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10 thoughts on “The Confusing Message of “Not Giving a F**k”

  1. Good grief this is so well stated. Thank you!! And I agree, we have watered-down many significant words/phrases by overuse. And our language is lacking the adequate verbiage to fill in the blanks. We have no way of properly communicating now without using ALL CAPS or talking more loudly. Or radical hand gestures. I’d like to get back to the right words.

  2. I wonder where the language will go from here. F***K is a dead-end – there is no shock value left. It’s like death metal – there is no creativity, only repetition.

    • I think we will move on after a while. Once kids start using it and schools either accept it or develop a “zero-tolerance” policy and the schools empty out, we’ll have to discover something else.

  3. Said here in NZ to the point of being meaningless, dropping into the everyday conversation of many because their vocabulary doesn’t have the depth or because their imagination canot open wide enough to allow another word out . . . very sad. In the playground but not the classroom, there is self control. 4 year olds turn up at kindergarten and have no idea what is coming out of their mouths. Very sad.

    I use the word with venom occasionally, more often when describing some arrogant male (usually) who uses their position to inflict ridiculous ideas or rules on others . . . f**kwit is a title reserved just for them.

    And the poem is wonderful. It has quieted the rant on the Amercian colonisation of English speaking countries through cr*p (I use the word advisedly) TV programmes and language.

  4. I remember when Frick and Frack were figure skaters and not words we substituted for the f-bomb. Blame stand-up comics too and movies and “popular culture” and rap music and our own fearful tolerance for someone flinging the word and us being afraid to say something because we didn’t want to be considered square or stodgy. I counted the number of occurrences in a person’s speech one time and counted 10 instances in 30 words. They were not even conscious they were saying it.

    • It’s lost the shock value–but mostly the speakers don’t use it as shock value, just as a filler word. We can do better. Frick and Frack were indeed skaters in the Ice Follies. I’d forgotten about that.

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