The Word Fuck
At the World Series of Poker, which is happening in Las Vegas now, players may say anything they like, no matter how distasteful or rude. They may not, however, say the word fuck, either as a noun or verb. Those that do incur a ten-minute penalty away from the table, where they may reflect on their poor vocabulary while their chips are anted off.
Fuck is the only word that requires punishment. Without fear of consequences, an angry loser could utter to no one in particular, “I hate goddamned niggers,” or ask rhetorically, “Is there anything worse than an ugly dyke gook who doesn’t know how to fold a hand — I mean beside a dirty Jew lawyer?”
In fact, the word fuck has become so drastically proscribed that staff — or others reporting an infraction — may not say, “The player in seat number nine said, ‘fuck.'” Instead, they must use the euphemism “f-bomb,” as though the word was an incendiary device that could explode inside the casino, splattering the remains of obese gamblers onto the slot machines. The tournament’s policy, which is in force at most major poker venues these days, is intended to promote civility to the game — which can be a challenge when you’re core constituency is a maladjusted sociopath whose self-esteem rises and falls in tandem with his cards.
Strangely, away from the suddenly sanitized milieu of professional poker, the “f-bomb” seems more prevalent than ever in casual conversation. While on walks with the dog, waiting in lines, being subjected to cell-phone monologues, we hear what passes for communication between expensively educated adults. Specific description has been replaced with “so fucking [insert adjective]” and objection or argument has been supplanted with “I’m like, fuck that.”
Real communciation, which sometimes involves struggling for the right word to express fine shades of meaning, is a challenge. Promiscuously tossing off f-bombs is easy. But the startling emphasis one achieves by using a carefully chosen expletive gets lost when every other word is fuck, fucking, and ohmyfuckinggod.
Perhaps these people need a ten-minute penalty.