Initially, I knew nothing of dirty words. All words were perfectly fine, except that there were some whose meaning I knew and some whose meaning I did not know. At some point, I became aware that some words were “dirty”, which is to say that my parents did not approve of me uttering them in any context, and other people might find them highly offensive. An important clue was that some of these words were never (in my childhood anyway) heard on TV, radio, or records.
These early dirty words fell into two general groups: The first group was words such as “stupid” or “idiot”, which described negative, though completely real, human traits that one would not wish to possess. And of course, these words were frequently uttered on TV, radio, and records, so while they were insulting, they weren’t too bad. The second group – the truly dirty words – was words such as “crap”, “shit”, or “asshole”, which utilized excrement or its related orifices, often as metaphors for people or their personal traits. Due to their emotionally charged, transformational nature, this second group was a far more interesting collection of words.
It quickly became clear that the King of Dirty Words was a four-letter ditty we all know, which I will refer to as F#¢*. I would hear older kids use F#¢* in a variety of forms and conjugations and it was clearly the heavy war club among swear words. The trouble was, I didn’t know what it meant.
Well, I prided myself on being a resourceful urchin, so I reasoned it out. It seemed clear that this had to be some kind of super-duper ultra gross synonym for the nastiest thing I knew of – human excrement. So I not only had gotten the essential meaning wrong; I had also mis-identified it as a noun rather than a verb.
So it was that one day soon after making this connection, I was bickering with my older brother and told him, quite pointedly, to “Eat my F#¢*.” When he responded by falling down, laughing hysterically, I immediately realized that I had made a terrible mistake. To his credit, he quickly explained that F#¢* was, in fact, a verb, and he gave me some garbled explanation of what it meant. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but it was enough to permit me to move forward and use the word properly thereafter, even if I didn’t yet appreciate its nuances.
Postscript — A few years later, when I had acquired a more comprehensive and anatomically detailed understanding of the word F#¢*, I walked into the house one day and announced that there was nothing dirty about the word – that it described a completely natural and common process; that there was a word for every such process and this was simply the word which described that process. Included in this announcement was my casual and frequent uttering of the formerly taboo word. My mother took quick exception to this new-found linguistic philosophy. She quickly and effectively discouraged me from any further articulation of this line of reasoning. And though she offered no alternative terminology, I saw that it was not in my best interest to pursue the matter further.