Cormac MacConnell: Too much Under the Consent of the King

I have an extremely angry big F (not a bee!) in my bonnet today.

I make no apologies for letting it fly out into the world either.

My angry F has been bred and triggered by the continuing hypocritical national caterwaul over the use of strong language in the recent Irish Army documentary, The Recruits.

This represents an Everest of hypocrisy altogether, at a time when, for whatever reason, we Irish at about all levels of society seem to be attempting to become the swearing champions of the world, especially in relation to the loathsome F word.

And that, for sure, is the truth.

Just a few years ago, the only time when the infamous four-letter word was heard was when an errant hammer hit a thumbnail. There was some kind of excuse for that.

Nowadays, all has changed. It is to be heard about every evening at least once or twice on TV, even on our own national station, and nobody bats an eyelid.

It seems, in some surreal way, to have become fashionable and modern.

Once, its usage was generally a male preserve. Not any more. It flows freely and strongly from the tongues and tonsils of men, women and children, and from the large emerging clan of persons of fluid genders of one kind or another.

It appears frequently in all the national papers and magazines. Am I alone in flinching every time I hear it on the airwaves or encounter it in print? I doubt that I am.

I have been involved in this writing trade since my teens, and have written for many papers and magazines in that time. I have never written this four-letter word anywhere for publication, and I never will.

In court reportage, in the past, when it cropped up in evidence, it was the ritual practice to either drop it altogether or, if that was not possible, to use the f***k device when absolutely necessary for an accurate report.

That is not the situation any longer. One would be hard-pressed to get through any newspaper today without encountering the full frontal word.

And it is not just in court reports, either. One is almost as likely to collide with it on the sports or feature pages. It is emerging everywhere and, when written down in full, it looks as shockingly ugly as it sounds when spoken.

I am not a prude. I swear, but I find it especially shocking to hear the female element of the current torrent.

It sounds worse when it comes down that frequency — and there is total equality nowadays on that front, for sure. Some modern men of all ages and classes are so addicted to the F word that they insert it into the centre of adverbs, nouns and adjectives in virtually every sentence. The verbal consequences are awful to listen to.

The description of a person as foul-mouthed is more accurate now than it has ever been. If mouthwash products do their job and cleanse the mouth, then the four-letter word can surely be said to cause a “blisterine” effect, fouling up the speaking mouth and the immediate vicinity. And the oral virus is spreading faster than myxomatosis did long ago through the rabbit population.

Did ye know that the foul word is actually an acronym from the very ancient mists of time? I checked this week, and it appears that some ancient monarch somewhere, who had 127 wives himself, forbade his subjects to go to bed together to make love without his express permission.

This apparently led to the permission being called Fornication Under the Consent of the King, and so the acronym was born!

Away back in the 15th century, a poet called William Dunbar was the first to embed the acronym in a poem.

An angry monk used the F word in an attack on his abbot scrawled on the edge of a manuscript in 1528.

And, allegedly, the word was excised altogether from some of the early works of William Shakespeare, no less. The pure truth here, yet again.

The word, as ye know, is nowadays heard so often on the airwaves that the shock factor is being diluted by the hour and day. It is in keeping with our current mastery of bad language, however, that it was an Irishman — of course — who was the first to utter the F word on the then very staid BBC.

It was back in 1956 on the Panorama show, with millions listening, and the utterer was none other than Brendan Behan. He was clearly drunk at the time, and the strength of his slurred Dublin accent on the set meant that many viewers on the night were not certain for a while that they had actually heard history of a kind being made.

Still , there was a major row afterwards. Today, nobody would bat an eyelid. I think that is quite sad.


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