Does an f-bomb make the man?

Los Angeles didn’t quite know what to make of its mayor, Eric Garcetti, holding a

© Piotr Marcinski

© Piotr Marcinski

beer bottle and dropping the f-bomb into a microphone during a rally that was broadcast live to celebrate the Kings’ winning the Stanley Cup.

“They say there are two rules in politics,” the mayor said. “Never, ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear. But this is a big [effing] day.”

Where’d he learn that word – at a Rangers game?

The morning news speculated that Garcetti said it, in part, to offset criticism that he’s too reserved for LA. He’s a Columbia man and a Rhodes Scholar in a town known for beauty, not brains. The unexpected f-bomb, speculators said, made him look more like an average Joe, all right, and average Joes – as we know because Hollywood tells us so – are manly men.

I disagree. That Garcetti used the word only points up its increasing impotence. The f-bomb has become so common in regular conversation that it has lost its venom as a cussword that you couldn’t wait to scribble into the captions in your seventh-grade literature book. A very, very bad cussword.

Oh, the heady days when the f-bomb shocked! Picture a lovely day, sunny, birds chirping, frat boys sitting on the roof of their Victorian-style frat house in a Michigan college town, Country Joe & the Fish’s “Vietnam Song” blasting the curtains out the windows, its blue lyrics crashing onto passers-by below.

That was the life. That was living. That was one of the seven words that comedian George Carlin noted couldn’t be said on TV, then promptly said it again.

It will take more than a public f-bomb to remake Garcetti’s image. Even a hundred years ago – six hundred years ago – it would have taken more. That’s because, some linguistic historians say, when the f-bomb first surfaced, it was connected with a Scottish literary tradition called “flyting,” in which poets tried to out-insult each other. An example cited by Discovery: “Weakly f—ed up foundling that nature made a dwarf!”

Hard-core cursing, they say, invokes religion in some way. By that measure, the f-bomb is but a weak cousin, the all-purpose cussword that converts easily from informal to infuriated. Garcetti’s use of it was a rather textbook example of a Columbia man parading a snippet of literature.

Reports so far have failed to verify whether there was any beer in Garcetti’s bottle, either.

So what’s the mayor to do to sprinkle a bit of Bad Boy/Average Joe dust on his image? Should he? What are your thoughts?

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