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Baby, will I ever quit you?
Before we get started, you don’t mind if I call you Eff, do you? To keep the party polite and all? Okay?
Okay, that’s settled.
(I’ve learned that clearing that up from the get-go is important. If you don’t remember why, Eff, read on.)
Eff, the beginning point on this arc is nestled in a memory from decades ago, when I was seven or eight. Dad was taking a group of us kids to get ice cream. As we piled into his 1970 convertible Cutlass Supreme, I uttered the word “fart” as part of a long-forgotten juvenile joke. Whether it was funny or not is anyone’s guess, but that Dad heard this great transgression was decidedly not funny.
While he constantly practiced world-class foul language, “fart” was entirely too distasteful for his daughter and I knew it. That day, he indicated as much with a what-was-that-I-heard glare he shot my way via the rearview mirror. It was enough to start my lower lip quivering and put my ice cream status in serious danger. Tears and apologies followed.
Dad caved and I got my scoop of vanilla, and while the lesson (obviously) endured, my adherence to clean language was never absolute, but mostly controlled. That said, I wouldn’t even try to map out my swearing biorythym over the years. These days, however, you’ve infiltrated my lexicon to the point where it feels like an invasion.
Eff, let’s face it, you rarely add anything to the proceedings.
Hey sugar, why’ontcha slide that maple glazed beauty my way?
Hey you mother effer, gimme an effing donut.
Clearly, no one on God’s green earth would deny the request in the first sentence, but sentence number two? Those donuts were most certainly not engaging in coitus, nor did the would-be donut distributor deserve that insult (or did he?). Your inclusion also made the author come off like an angry knuckle-dragging dolt who is in no way deserving of a donut.
Well … okay, maybe you did perform a service of sorts in sentence number two, but you see my point, Eff, which apparently is that now I want an effing donut. (Sorry, Dad.)
Here’s the thing, Eff, you weren’t always weaving through my sentences like a drunk making his way to the door at closing. I did my share of cursing in the Before Times, but unless I was acutely stressed, I was judicious about lobbing the eff bombs. This, for instance, struck me as a good use of your … erm … charms. That right there is an example of a writer aptly and economically applying a device, however strongly. You got my point across, loud and clear.
But much of my swearing today, Eff, indicates a loss of control, one that is not good news for my fellow earthlings. When a writer like me lets the eff bombs fly, it indicates that acute stress has become constant. It means I’ve lost command of the language I so lovingly nurture, at least temporarily. It means the evil forces of the world have gurgled up from the depths of hell and have me so goddamn distracted that the mechanisms that make me clever and thoughtful and original are, at best, deeply buried beneath the weight of it all and, at worst, completely AWOL.
This isn’t the whole story. My history with you is, well, mottled. Let me jog your memory and set the time machine back to September, 2006.
Dear Mike Rowe,
Hello. My name is Erin O'Brien and I want to fuck your brains out.
Yes, that was how I launched my inaugural Free Times column, the “Rainy Day Woman,” seventeen years ago. The prose also went on to assert, “I really want to see your dick.”
Having survived a dozen edits or more, that language was wholly intentional, but was it funny? Judge for yourself. While my editor Frank Lewis thought it was hilarious, his boss—Free Times Publisher Matt Fabyan—deemed it slightly less charming than my verbal fart with Dad all those years ago.
“He hated it. He just absolutely fucking hated it,” recalled Lewis of Fabyan’s reaction during a phone call earlier this week. “He was really mad. He must have stopped short of telling me not to use you anymore because of course we did.”
We then briefly discussed another of my columns that centered around a cucumber salad, which I thought had gotten him into even hotter water than the fuck-Mike-Rowe’s-brains-out affair. I had initially submitted it without any fucks, opting instead to use effs sort of like I’m using them right here in this letter. Lewis changed them back and published the essay, which in my recollection, raised Fabyan’s ire even further, but Lewis wasn’t sure.
“I wish I could remember more about it,” he said.
As for Fabyan, Lewis texted him after our conversation to see what he remembered. “Matt doesn’t remember getting mad,” he reported back.
So it goes, Eff.
Mike Rowe. Cucumbers. Effing Effs. Who can keep it all straight? Not me, but despite what you might believe about yourself, you are not all that, particularly when a writer like me is staring at the blinking cursor as nameless dread seeps from my every pore, and all I can manage is a bewildered “fuck.”
I gotta do better, baby.
Now I’m not banning you forever, Eff. We all know that would be a fool’s errand, but I’ve got you on the radar and quitting things is something I’m getting better at.
ps: If effling a word? Effling oughta be a word, a contraction of sorts for little effing underling.
pss: Your usage and tattoos seem to be on the same public acceptance route.
psss: Well, Eff, I unearthed an email I wrote to Frank Lewis about you back in Nov. 2006 after the cucumber debacle. As I recall, Lewis’s reasoning referenced herein was that he thought the effs were too coy.
From the email:
I thought a bit more about the replacement of "eff" with "fuck" and I agree with your reasoning for it. However, for some linguistic reason, "eff" is not as strong as "fuck." Where you can use eff fifteen times, you can only use fuck once, maybe twice. So I guess I would have gone along with your change, but reduced the number of fucks in the copy.
That said, all those fucks seemed to win over [readers], so there's that.
Who the eff knows?
Okay, so maybe you’re not all that, but just some of that (whatever the hell that is), just don’t get all big-headed, you miserable effing oaf.
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