By Chila Woychik
I’m ripping down the interstate in my grunty fifteen-year-old Audi, watching for speed traps. I’m not going that fast, but faster than what the signs along this stretch allow. It doesn’t take long to get to 70 in this car, then an extra ten or fifteen on top of that is nothing short of necessity. A sort of synth sound plays on the radio, a steady beat and a vocal or two. I turn it up.
A car pulls up next to me and hangs, like it either wants to race or it’s reached the speed limit and simply wants to hang. I nose forward, let off the gas a little; he catches up. I nose forward again. The synth beat continues, blares. I feel hot and nervous. I am the mechanism and the mechanism is me; who cares what happens next?
“What the f—” It was Shane, my passenger.
I interrupted him. “Do you even know how that word came about?”
“What?” He chokes the question out with a sort of straggling sound.
I pause, then put it another way. “I said, do you even know what you’re saying?”
Impatience. “Why the hell should I care?” Shane continued. “Don’t you see that idiot beside us? He’s way too close for comfort. Speed up and lose him.”
“Do you realize it probably had its origin in the Middle Ages?”
I could see Shane out of the corner of my eye. He turned my way and stared, lips slightly parted and a fiery disgust in his eyes. I went on.
“True fact, Shane. Of course, my guess was that ‘fecundity’ may have come into play—heh heh—the word, if not the act, but it doesn’t seem so.”
More incredulity, and hot stares. I felt them focused on my temple. He finally spoke again. “What, are you some kind of word nerd now?”
A head shake. “What?”
“Linguistics. The study of words, basically. I find it fascinating,” I admitted, without a trace of shame.
“You see, one morning I woke up and thought, out of the blue, that I should demystify what happens to be your favorite word in the entire English language. Maybe I could use it as a kind of therapy to help you get over it. It’s like, the only word you ever use, and so I figured maybe it’s an addiction, and if we somehow broke that chain of addiction by impressing on your mind the history of its usage, by association you’d think of other, better, words to use instead. See?”
He didn’t “see.” I could see that. I continued anyway.
“But I needed research first. So I spent several hours that day on the internet looking up everything I could find about its history.”
“With the advent of Google, Wikipedia, and all-things-accessible-to-the-seeker, research on the f-word has been reduced to an easy task, and with its more accepted use in common society, to a less titillating task. As with so much language development, f*ck is said to have originated in Europe. Though urban legend puts it in league with “Fornication Under Consent of the King,” its somewhat ambiguous history will likely stay ambiguous. Like I tried to explain earlier, when I first thought about its origins, I considered that ‘fecundity’ might have a role, fecundity being ‘fertility.’ But no, I can’t seem to find a link to that at all, though I think it was a good observation on my part.”
I continued with the lecture and Shane continued staring straight ahead, his mouth slightly parted. “But, you see, the word has changed. It doesn’t always mean copulation like it used to. Now it’s a synonym for ‘damn’ or ‘hell.’ ‘Get that f*cking bike out of my way, when what they would have said several years ago was ‘Get that /damn/ bike out of my way’. Or, ‘What the f*ck are you doing?’ would have been ‘What the /hell/ are you doing?’ We’ve passed through a linguistic shift, a societal transformation in the world of language. It follows closely on the heels of other countries which seem to be consistently more liberal in these areas. And lest I speak more of this and demonstrate my almost-certain ineptitude in the area of societies and linguistics, I’ll stop with that line of reasoning. Though I can’t debate intellectually on this topic, I can observe. Those were observations.”
Shane sat transfixed, his mouth formed as if an “f” were lingering there, lower lip tucked in, top row of teeth riding on it. I kept talking.
“In the meantime, since the word still raises ire, I’ve decided on something. I’ve decided that should I feel the need to use this modern piece of language, these four little letters so easily strung together, in future writing … well, who knows what I’ll do? I may use a comparable word from generations ago, the Anglo-Saxon ‘swive,’ which may or may not carry a negative connotation with its meaning, ‘to swivel.’ Some researchers say its meaning extended to sexual intercourse, while others insist no such thing. But then, the corniness-factor may be too great with that. How about the English, ‘sodding’? Hmm. Now that’s a possibility. Everything we do involves the use of language, Shane. We can’t sit ignorantly by, our head buried at the beach, hoping to never intelligently address this issue. We must think, which often turns out to be the most offensive word of all.”
“Well, I’ll be fucswivsodthunk!” he blurted.
* * *
Chila Woychik (she/her) is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria. She has been published in Cimarron, Passages North, and others, and has an essay collection, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology (Shanti Arts, 2020). She won Storm Cellar’s Flash Majeure Contest and Emry’s Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. She currently splits her time between tending her sheep in Iowa and avoiding the snakes and gators of Georgia. http://www.chilawoychik.com