One day back in the 1970s, when a certain vulgar word became the favorite all-purpose term of many young men -- few young women had the nerve to say it -- my son, 16 at the time, said, "Mom, why the f--- can't I go to Austin with my friends for an overnight? One of the guys is 18."
Precisely ... my reasoning.
He didn't go to Austin with "the guys" and I won that one. I apparently lost the battle about using the F-word, however. I asked him if he knew what it meant. Of course he didn't so I explained it to him in rather graphic terms.
"Well," he said, "that's not what I meant."
"So, from now on, I am sure you won't say it anymore. Right?"
I got no promises.
Today the entire world says "f---." It's so prevalent that we don't even bat our eyes anymore. Even girls say it. It is considered obscene and vulgar in many social circles, and certainly in most family settings, but it is also common in some families and "guys in the garage" situations.
Gradually it has worked its way into popular culture.
When Clark Gable uttered "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" in "Gone With the Wind," 1939 audiences were shocked. His farewell to a sobbing Vivian Leigh became a popular, if laughable, retort. Today, Rhett Butler would probably tell Scarlett O'Hara that he didn't give a "something else."
In August 2005, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the Canadian press had come to consider the word commonplace. The F-word is the only vulgarity or profanity included in the Canadian Press Handbook other than "damn" and "s.o.b." Editors were advised to avoid it but if it added value to the story, it would not be considered objectionable. No such easing of vulgarity standards seems to have been embraced in the U.S. by the Society of Professional Journalism Code of Ethics or The New York Times Policy on Ethics in Journalism. Yet.
Hollywood is a different story. I went to see the Academy Award-winning movie "Silver Linings Playbook" a couple of weeks ago. The acting was superb. The story was disconnected in spots but Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance won the Oscar for best actress Sunday night, was convincing in her portrayal of a friend trying to help a friend face the world and let go of a lost love.
But she and the rest of the cast used "the word" throughout. Oh, maybe occasionally, when she was really angry, she could have thrown in a swear word, but I don't think "the word" added much in understanding her anger. It was understandable just by looking at her eyes.
The Motion Picture Association of America's ratings review board has the final say in movie ratings. "Silver Linings Playbook" was rated R for language. It contained a touching message about friendship and family loyalty. It's too bad that 15- and 16-year-olds are technically not allowed to see it because of the frequent use of a word even 10-year-olds say.
I still hate overuse of the F-word and I would prefer not to be subjected to it, but that's what's happening in today's culture. We have become immune to behaviors that are offensive and we're letting it happen by not objecting.
Caroline O. Reid, a 28-year resident of Bakersfield, is a retired executive assistant. She is a member of Writers of Kern and the Bakersfield Art Association.