One afternoon while driving home from school I misjudged the density of the queue on the other side of the traffic lights and ended up partially blocking the intersection. I promptly cursed like a sailor, remembering too late that I had my daughter and her friend in the car with me.
"Sorry, girls," I said gaily, hoping I hadn't scarred them for life. My daughter rolled her eyes while her friend just giggled and said, "My mother says we should really try to say 'fluff' instead."
The F-word just might be the English language's most versatile and hardworking word. Along with its derivatives, the F-word is noun, verb, adjective, adverb, exclamation and the key component of some powerful compound words. Its hard-edged consonants lend it a rugged coarseness that's appealing if you're angry, shocked or generally lost for words.
But the poor old F-word gets a very hard time. It has a bad reputation. It may be only four letters long but a lot of people find it offensive and claim its users must a) possess a poor vocabulary, b) have had a bad upbringing, c) be generally vulgar and possibly d) all of the above.
Yet many other people find the F-word alluring, not to mention downright useful. Naughty words can be descriptive, attention grabbing and, above all else, great fun to use. They can indicate a streak of recklessness and even brighten up a dull afternoon.
Mind your language: If you must swear, at least try to do it with some effing elan in the latest Tatler magazine displays a forthright approach to the subject: "Unless you're in church or, perhaps, a kindergarten, these days nobody ought to be offended by swearing."
Today we write down a lot more swear words than we used to. Thanks to text messages and emails we've had to become more creative about the spelling. "Blardy bi-arch" looks so much nicer than the alternative, and spelling the F-word phonetically will hopefully ensure that our more colourful emails avoid rejection by judgemental filters. And, of course, FFS, OMFG, STFU and WTF are convenient shorthand for frequently used crude phrases.
I'm firmly in the sticks-and-stones camp when it comes to bad language. I don't see the shock value of mere words, especially words that have lost their original meaning and been harnessed as general-purpose cuss words. Yet there's probably a case for trying to be more inventive with our day-to-day cussing and saving the really bad words for when they're genuinely needed.
With that in mind, here are some substitutes you may like to consider:
Effing: "Effing and blinding" may be the term used to describe using bad language but "effing" itself is too refined to qualify as a bona fide cuss word.
Fassels: Urban Dictionary may recommend this as an all-encompassing stand-in for any potentially offensive word but I'm not convinced. It sounds a bit too wussy to me.
Feck: Thanks to Father Ted and Mrs Brown's Boys, "feck" is gaining ground. It has many of the aural benefits of the original word but presumably won't get you in quite as much trouble if you utter it in the wrong company.
Fire truck: "What the fire truck?" kind of has a nice ring to it.
Fluff: You must be aged either under 10 or over 70 to be excused for using such an insipidly poor substitute.
Frick: "Frickin' 'eck" may have a certain je ne sais quoi but "frick" itself doesn't hold a candle to the-word-which-must-not-be-spoken-in-certain-company.
Frig: See "Frick".
Fudge: See "Fluff".
Root: It's coarse and very Kiwi. Although it's not strictly speaking even a swear word and lacks the chameleon-like flexibility of the original, it nonetheless may come in handy on occasions when you feel the urge to forcefully describe a situation, object or person as being beyond repair.
Shag: An acceptable utterance if you're Austin Powers, Hugh Grant or a regular reader of Tatler, shag sounds far too civilised to really be a satisfactory substitute for the second most offensive word in the English language.
What's your view on swearing and the F-word in particular? Can you recommend any interesting substitutes? Are you bothered by swearing or is having a potty mouth no big deal?