This is a set of fridge magnets. It’s on sale in the branch of WH Smith on the main concourse on Manchester Piccadilly railway station. This display is helpfully located between the books for children and the soft drinks and sweets. It’s on a low rack, just about at eyeball level for your average six-year-old. It’s tacky and crass and totally inappropriate, and the individual who decided to display it there, in the area of the store where children are most likely to see it, pretty much has to be genuinely stupid.
It’s not, actually, precisely the word itself that bothers me. I certainly can’t claim that I never use it myself, although I do wince when I hear it used, as it often is, as either punctuation or a substitute for the word ‘very’. I don’t have a problem seeing it in print either, and I’m not particularly offended by it – but the word itself, here, is only part of the point.
What I do find offensive is the idea that a profanity with potent layers of meaning attached to it, that a significant number of people still consider to be an absolute taboo – it’s a word that, for example, I have never ever heard my mother use – should be devalued to the point where it can be plastered all over a set of tacky fridge magnets and put on sale in a newsagent’s shop between a shelf full of books for children and a display of sweets and Coca-Cola. I don’t have a problem, as I said, with the word itself – but context is everything, and in this context, it’s tasteless. Words, including this one, exist to be used – but words this strong need to be treated with respect.