Why is it okay now?
Words used to have p o w e r
This seems to deflate them - so, is it a good thing, or, is it a bad thing?
The following is a re-post by Tom Bentley. He is a business and travel writer, an essayist and a novelist. He's published hundreds of freelance pieces in newspapers, magazines, and online. He is the author of three novels, a book of short stories and a how-to book on finding and cultivating your writing voice.
How did previously taboo profanities become de rigueur on cutesy merchandise?
By Tom Bentley May 4, 2020, 8:30am EDT
If you look around — and you don’t have to look very hard — you might have seen that there are a lot of items that now have the word “fuck” printed on them. These aren’t exotic or unusual things: socks, pencils, shirts, keychains, desk calendars, books, earrings. Even bars of soap, which might be handy for washing your mouth out after use.
I started to notice this commercial drift a few years ago when someone gave me a cup with a cartoony cat image and the statement “Cats Don’t Give a Fuck.” Not that that’s not true, but it is rather blunt. The cup seemed to be a clever novelty item, and its cheery presentation nothing taboo.
This was not long after I’d heard Samuel Jackson recite the text of the popular Adam Mansbach book Go the F**k to Sleep, to give modern parents some solace. There was something a bit daring in hearing Jackson shout the expletives in an alleged bedtime book, but, to me, more hilarious than blasphemous. And late last year, I read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and checked to see what else he’d done, only to find his newest, Everything Is F*cked. It wasn’t until I received a set of 10 pencils as a Christmas gift — pencils labeled with phrases like “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” on them — that it seemed the product-profanity engine had reached fourth gear.
Those pencils (box-labeled “Fucking Brilliant: 10 Pencils for Writing Shit Down”) are the product of Chronicle Books, a San Francisco–based publisher of books and gift items. Chronicle’s Calligraphuck line has a high percentage of fucks (and shits) among its varied product roster. Kim Romero, senior editor at Chronicle, told me, “Calligraphuck uses profanity in an uplifting way, putting emphasis on positive messages and sentiments. Much of the appeal lies in the humor and surprise of seeing profanity rendered in lovely gold calligraphy. It’s an irresistible combination of irreverence and elegance.”
Chronicle doesn’t see a commercial risk in carrying products with a naughty message. “We’re always interested in offering our consumers something new. In this case: brilliant swear words with a twist, not just vulgarity,” says Christina Amini, executive publishing director of adult books and gift products at Chronicle. “Believe it or not, we spend a lot of time talking about which expletives are just right for this line. You can’t please everyone all the time, especially when you offer something with a strong flavor like our ‘Classy as Fuck’ flask. So we know that it won’t work for all retailers, but for the people who love this, they are all in,” she says.