In many ways, words can shape our very perception of reality. Edward Sapir, who helped develop the hypothesis of linguistic relativity in the 1930s, put it this way: “Human beings . . . are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. . . . The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.”
It’s a radical idea, but what if it contains a grain of truth? What does our society’s thunderstorm of public F-bombs do to our greater sensibility, cultural or otherwise? When the worst swear word becomes commonplace, what do we use to describe the truly horrific? What happened to mystery and subtlety? For that matter, what happened to the fashion sense of people who regularly sport shirts that evoke memories of the early routines of Andrew Dice Clay?
It is no surprise, I suppose, that the F-bomb has become ubiquitous as our culture’s exhibitionism has gotten out of control. But here we can draw at least one consolation: Back at the Friars Club in the Sixties, the F-word was shocking and rare, at least when uttered in public. Today, it’s emblazoned in insouciant acronyms on the packaging of mass-produced Burger King meals.