Go with a smile!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


There’s a song that’s quite popular right now. It’s “Fuck You” by Cee Lo.

I saw a letter in the Straits Times where a shopper was shocked that a song like that was played on the stereo system of a shop in that mall. I’m afraid that some members of the older generation have totally missed out on the pleasures of swearing. Well they are worried about kids, so I’m sure they know the meaning of the f word in practice. It’s totally symptomatic of the stifling conservatism in Singapore that you can get into trouble with the law for using this language in public. A real shame.

There are after all, plenty of vocations, some of them to be found in Singapore, where swearing is very common.

1. Sailors
2. Longshoremen
3. Grocer (especially in a less sexy environment like a market or a wholesale centre)
4. Taxi Driver / Bus Driver / Hauler
5. IT industry
6. Soldier
7. Trader

Certain occupations don’t have a lot of swearing because they take place in unsanitary environments, and you don’t want to be opening your mouths more than

It is instructive to think about the F word. It is actually not the most offensive word in the English language. Offhand, a poll was done, and it was concluded that the most offensive word is “cunt”. There is some evidence that swear words are universal. The relative level of offensiveness in swear words is roughly the same in English and Hokkien. Fuck = Kan. Motherfucking = Kannina. Cunt = Cheebai. The translation is almost exact.

Studies on vulgar language have shown that there is a special part of the brain that swear words activate, which elevates these words to a special status, over and above the normal use of language. Your name is also a special word, because your ears prick up when these words are used.

That said, I’m slightly uncomfortable with the song “Fuck You”. I thought about it for a while, and finally put my finger on it. (As opposed to putting my finger in it.) The F word is not actually a word. It is a word, but it is really a special punctuation mark. By itself, it doesn’t have that much meaning. Well, it means have sex with, it means to do something undesirable / drastic towards somebody. But even those uses can be reduced to something else. Like if you say, “I wanna fuck you”, it’s equivalent to “I wanna fucking have sex with you”. Or “I’m going to fuck him up good this time”, is equivalent to “I’m going to fucking fix him this time”.

I think that the spirit of the f word is that it’s a flavour enhancer, something like MSG. It should not be a word that is front and centre. It is only there to modify the meaning of the words around it. The use of “fuck” can make a funny joke a little funnier. But on its own, it is not a funny word. It is not a particularly meaningful word.

There are some essays written on the wonder of the word fuck. That is a mistake. It’s a bit like saying that the full stop is such a wonderful thing because it can be used in so many situations.

That is not to deny the pliability of the use of the word. If you listen to Cee-Lo‘s “Fuck You” he’s actually an eager beaver. On some level he’s accepted that his girlfriend is gone, but he still says “fuck you” and admits that it hurts to see him go. Consider, in contrast, Dr Dre’s “Fuck You”. It is an example of studied nonchalance. “I just wanna fuck you, we can't be hugging and kissing, you got a husband who loves you.” You are a sex object and I’m here spelling that out to you.



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