It’s interesting to me how language devolves and evolves like this and yet the word we even perhaps overuse more than others has not lost its meaning and power, or not in the way that these other words have and giving the finger, if done correctly and with some real power behind it. (And I don’t mean flipping someone off when you’re driving, which is just generally a bad idea because in to many states you could just get shot for doing this and while I’ve done it, it’s really not a good idea and I duck every time I’ve done it.)
Some the best songs are revenge songs, which occurred to me as I was listening to Frankee singing “Fuck You Right Back”, which I love because it is responsive and it’s not that she was a nasty person, it’s that she is pissed and the song is responsive to another song called “Fuck You” by an ex. Nor is this any ordinary revenge song because even though so many of them have power (“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams for example, which I think works well, it still doesn’t have as much power because even though the betrayal and anger show through, it is more betrayal than anger.) Elliott Smith was also very good at using the word fuck in his songs, just casually tossing it in there but it landed like a punch to the gut; if only he knew how affecting and moving his work really was, he would be here today; we cannot know.
The lyrics to “Fuck You Right Back” are such, “but I do admit I’m glad, I didn’t catch crabs.” among other such lines aimed to the recipient. This is truly nasty stuff and the last line, You made me do this and the way it is said really delivers the final punch. She is right too.
If he really didn’t care, as he boasts like a strutting cock, then why is he crying like a bitch and talking shit, as she notes. Why did he write a song about her if he didn’t really care? Logic prevails. He obviously is not quite over it and still has some issues that remain unresolved. I love Fuck You Right Back merely as a responsive title because it is so straightforward and not trying to cover or mask emotion or anger. I love that the anger is responsive and not just naturally aggressive, which would make a difference, or to me would make a difference anyway. No question that the meaning of the song or the message could be lost on the recipient or any doubt as to who the recipient is.
Rarely is the word fuck delivered as well as it is here, and though I wouldn’t normally praise the usage of such a word, there are certainly times when it seems called for and god knows we’ve all been there. We may throw it around more casually, but when called for, we are all capable of delivering the harder version if need be, even our Ani DiFranco in Napoleon and Untouchable Face
I once took a photograph of myself giving the finger (long story) and it had a power and an energy behind it that I was reminded by my husband of a photograph of Johnny Cash giving the finger, and while I don’t know the story behind that, it’s obvious that he’s really, really pissed. There’s just something about this word and the energy that can go behind flipping someone off that no matter how often we say it, it is rare that it becomes dilute. Of course, it can with casual use, but it’s rare. It’s all about affect, for lack of a better way of saying it.
Some words, however, do lose their power over time;: bitch is one, cunt is another. These words that used to be oh-so-awful and women (or even men) were supposed to be just devastated and embarrassed into complete submission when such nouns were hurled their way by lesser idiots ~ those days are long gone, or at least they are for me, if they existed at all.
The point is, language is changing and evolving such that words that once had power no longer have that same power. We’ve seen it happen with all kinds of words that eventually pass into common usage the way Xerox is now xerox and means simply to copy or xerox as it were and Kleenex is simply kleenex and works for any tissue.
But really, I only opened this piece with Fuck You Right Back to show how much power the word can have and how when it is responsive, it seems to have more power. Perhaps because we become like a cornered animal in situations in which we are being attacked and so we fight back and claw and hiss like a cat at the vet or confronted by another cat. We have a visceral fight-back reaction, which to me seems quite normal.
Dictionary of American Slang
The origin of the word fuck dates as far back as the 1200s and meant – definition: – 1 “to do the sex act with someone. 2. An instance of the sex act; a quick fuck 3.n A sex partner she said he’s not a bad fuck 4. n. A despicable person, a prick = BASTARD, PRICK. Why don’t you fucks find a cure for that already. HELLER.Get out you stupid fuck! 5 v To cheat, to swindle; maltreat, take advantage of, to screw. I was with them twenty years and they fucked me anyhow. & etc. (courtesy Dictionary of American Slang)
Did anyone know the word dated back as far as that? I didn’t. In short, the word fuck has always been a part of our language that at one time meant a rather good thing (to have relations with someone; to make love).
How then did it become an insult? This puzzles me and surely I’ll have to do more research because as a writer and someone who studies language, I find this interesting (not just this word, obviously, but how words change in any context). How did fuck soon become something quite different and not so good after all. Why would one man say to another fuck you and who was the first person to think of using the word in this way?
All I could ascertain was that it dated back to the 1200s and while theories about, and there are even books dedicated to the subject or history of the word, all of them, as far as I could find out, remain largely inconclusive and those that claim to know are hotly debated in the field (really).
So there you have it. There can be no graceful end to this piece, so I’ll just end and wish you well. For more revenge songs or etymology lessons, seek out Ryan Adams, Come Pick Me Up, which is one of the best, obviously The Teaches of Peaches or Fuck the Pain Away is another excellent one and a gazillion others… I could go on, but I welcome your contributions and look forward.