The Universal Expletive

An aside

To lighten things up, of course the most satisfying utterance of the term for an amateur, especially in the context of political economy and partisanship, might be use of the universal expletive, as in the phrase, “What a fucking idiot!” Expletives were originally thought of in an etymologically precise manner similar to the use of the word ‘idiot’, as a literary devise meaning “a word or phrase used to fill out a sentence or a line of verse without adding to the sense,” of the sentence or verse, so in this sense it is not really an expletive at all. It can actually add quite a bit of meaning, as when the use of expletives transitioned to ‘swear’ words (suggesting condemnation) and ‘dirty’ words associated with bodily functions (and forbidden pleasures).

While it is tempting to disapprove of this usage as contemptuous and to be avoided, as well it should be if the user wants to guard against misunderstanding and an escalation of an altercation, it is not without its attractions. ‘Fucking’ is simply an antiquated word for sexual intercourse, sexual congress, coitus, copulation, love making, mating that only idiots still continue to use, since a professional, an expert, has moved on through a process known by the experts as the euphemism treadmill to use the passive and possessive terms “They were having sex” or more properly, “They were having sexual relations.” But saying or thinking, “What a sex-having idiot!”, just doesn’t ring true. ‘Having sex’ is intellectual small talk; ‘fucking’ is the visceral stuff that keeps the universe in motion.

This word under discussion apparently came from Scandinavia by way of Scotland, (as did I, in part, over many generations by the very process it references) as “akin to Norwegian dialect fukka ‘copulate,’ or Swedish dialect focka‘copulate, strike, push,’” and finally the “German ficken ‘fuck,’ earlier ‘make quick movements to and fro, flick,’ still earlier ‘itch, scratch.’” This last definition is perhaps the most appropriate, as use of the term for some is like scratching a verbal itch; all indicate the well known activity required for survival of the human race. In the case under discussion however, the earlier German heritage is most germane, since a fucking idiot is like an autoerotic novice with no actual sexual experience other than making quick movements with their self to and fro and who nonetheless believes and flaunts that he or she is the worlds greatest lover, a world expert on carnal knowledge. In the interest of avoiding the appearance of being salacious, I will try not to state this phrase explicitly going forward, but rather if warranted use the acronym wafi. This is perhaps contradicted by the fact that Wafi is an Arabic name meaning ‘trustworthy’ or ‘reliable’, something a fi is not, but there is always hope for improvement.

The euphemism treadmill mentioned above describes the human need to shield oneself from thinking about a subject that one has to think about as an essential aspect of the human condition, of human life, so that terms in use that have to do with procreation or death or excretion or basically anything that makes some people uncomfortable about their mortal bodies, become subconsciously circumvented over time to become consciously offensive and eventually prohibited, especially if and when used by idiots in the company of professionals. They become avoided in polite company and are replaced by new euphemisms, which themselves become offensive at some point in time and are replaced by yet another set of euphemisms. 

In time the original term may become acceptable once again, first as a literary device or the object of historical investigation, then perhaps as an unselfconscious term of emphasis. This has been in process for a while in the English speaking world, what with ‘freaking’ and ‘fudge’ and other such terms entering the GP movies. When I was a teenager many eons ago, ‘screwing’ was as bad a word, but now gets by the lackadaisical censors with impunity. ‘I sure screwed up that test. She screwed me over. I got screwed!’, none of these statements have anything to do with sex or in general bring sex to mind, and that is likewise the case with most utterances of the word fuck for those that use it with any regularity. 

I have been mystified for years as to why the term retains the currency it has to both roll of the tongue of some with such unconscious abandon and to cause such self-conscious recoil on the part of others. The first case is not difficult to fathom. It is in most uses an expression of intense emphasis, and therefore essentially means ‘very’, though often of utmost intensity as in ‘very, very, very, veryy, verryy, veerryy, veeeeeerrrrryyyyyyyy . . .oh… my… God……..’ intense. It is a presumptive statement of an emphatically shared common experience, and therefore resonates with its initially sexual origin. It can also express intense contempt, and this may play a part in the recoil its use produces in polite or politically correct company; to such company, such language only comes from idiots, is proof of idiocy and contempt on the part of the speaker, which of course it may be, as it results in the horror and re-contempt of the offended.

I make light of this subject, but it is a serious matter. The euphemism treadmill can apply as well to terms relating to group identity, viewed from within the group, and to group identification, viewed from without; to name calling. But while people, particularly those expert in the public arena, employ euphemisms to avoid focusing on some stark reality of the human condition, they tend to resort to name calling to enhance that focus and in the process to convey emotion, often animus, just as they do when using a vulgarity. And a vulgarity, “from Latin vulgaris ‘of or pertaining to the common people, …’ from vulgar ‘the common people, multitude, crowd, throng,” is something an idiot says, or so say the elites

Initial name calling can be a good natured epithet uttered by a first party in the hopes of getting the attention of one or both of two audiences, the individuals or group being named as a targeted second party or the individuals or groups affiliated with the first party. That epithet may reference some position with which the second party identifies or which the first party rightly or wrongly identifies with them. If the name calling gets the desired results, and the named takes no offense, the matter ends there, perhaps with the addition of a new nickname for the second party. On the other hand, if the first party does not get their desired result, warranted or not, frustration can lead to invective; likewise if the second party takes offense and responds with its on epithets. 

Of course the initial epithet may carry its own baggage in the manner of invective against the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of its direct target; or it may simply be perceived as such by the second party. If the dialog descends to disdainful vulgarities in which each party appears to view the other as idiots representing an existential threat to their way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, progress toward common understanding, toward communication and agreement, stalls. Sometimes the solution is as difficult as civil war; sometimes it is as easy as one side stepping back and refusing to recognize the other as a threat, maintaining civility, clearly defining its position, but more importantly figuring out what the other party’s position really is, what really drives them, not what either side thinks drives them. 

Such detachment from the emotional drama does not mean passivity. It takes sustained intention and rigorous thought to find commonly acceptable solutions to stubborn problems that cannot be solved by finger pointing and name calling. It takes expert knowledge and understanding of the disciplines involved at levels that can not be addressed by most amateurs. 

Which brings us to elitism. Elitism is a beneficial fact of life, though the term is generally used as a pejorative. The community wants the best police detective organizing the hunt for an unidentified killer, the best epidemiologist working on identifying the source of the latest disease outbreak, the best engineer designing a bridge over the seasonally flooding river to the next town. If it has an understanding of economics, it will be willing to pay that individual commensurately while simultaneously realizing that the highest pay does not guarantee the best professional. Amateur-idiots and expert-professionals alike need elites. Even elites need other elites. Elites, in turn, need both amateurs and experts, though some do not seem to recognize the fact; of course if they are wise they will shun pride that leads to hubris, which feeds in turn the dangerous excesses of anti-elitism on the part of those who are on the receiving end of that arrogance.

Elites should, however, recognize that they are good at what they do. We would not want someone who is hesitant, who lacks confidence in their area of expertise, who does not believe that they can get things done, to perform vital surgery on us. Still, if they are really good, they will know where and when they have room for improvement. Problems arise when an elite confuses extensive knowledge with completed understanding of their field which prevents feedback from the pertinent insights of their subordinates, peers, and especially idiots, excuse me, amateurs interested in their field.

The significance of the third group should not be understated. An elite’s subordinates may be in thrall to their leader due to his command of their livelihood or the celebrated status arising from his command of the group subject matter, and his peers, due to a lack of confidence in their own understanding of a complex group pedagogy when compared to their perception of his or her mastery. An idiot may be enthralled by an elite’s pedigree; on the other hand he will generally not have been submitted to an insider’s pedagogy which might incorporate unperceived contradictory assumptions and misunderstanding leading to the field’s conundrums. An idiot can in his naiveté ask questions and discover answers that might not readily occur to the expert professionals. 

I am a semi-idiot in this regards in one such field, physics, based on a lifetime in the design and construction related business with its systematic, engineering approach to problem solving; a semi-expert in another with a BA in economics and a long time interest in policy, and with respect to logic, metaphysics, and theology, I’ll let the reader decide. It is the presumed insights these studies in Life have given me which informs this subject matter and provides the impetus for this writing, idiotic or not.

Anti-elitism on the part of some idiots and arrogance on the part of some elites is the cause of much that ails the human race. A respect for qualified professionals in their fields of expertise by the amateurs among us and a measure of equanimity on the part of these leaders in their dealings with the novices is responsible for much happiness. Contrary to the opening of the Declaration of Independence, we are not all created equal; some of us are simply better musicians or cooks or athletes or scientists or entrepreneurs or public servants or or entertainers or carpenters or whatever than others. But the nature of that inequality does not fall along the lines of race or sex or gender, other than as has been artificially drawn on the social fabric by the discrimination of those before us who have had more say than sense. 

As long as no one is harmed by our activities, we each deserve the opportunity to try to flourish according to our own abilities. The private sectors can level out of some of the economic disparities these inequalities, natural and cultural, bring by allowing us to earn the respect of each other in the market place, but it can never insure the necessities of life for everyone. It falls on the public sector to promote the general welfare of the people in those areas that private initiative will not or can not go; but even this can not guarantee the equality aspired to in the Declaration—or the happiness. Regardless of our abilities, we are all equally capable of being good friends and citizens, but only if we are willing to show each other an unearned respect for our God given rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. If Life and Liberty are respected, Happiness will necessarily follow—for Happiness is found in its own Pursuit.