Coming soon: an update on the status of my novel in progress, Farisa’s Crossing.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
a valid English sentence?
As stated, that’s not a very interesting question. Arguably, it’s invalid. English has no formal grammar or standard, so there’s no single definition of a valid sentence. Furthermore, open categories like proper nouns and interjections create loopholes that are easy to abuse. There could be a person named “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”, for whom this sentence declares dislike (as in, fuck that guy).
Such a sentence would be of low (aesthetic or utilitarian) quality, but it’s hard to imagine anyone using (except with irony, or as an example) the equally valueless but unambiguously valid sentence, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo“. Then there are the stack-smashing garden path sentences, fully correct but jarring. They are bad style, yes, but they are valid English.
Avoiding degenerate cases, let’s make this exercise more interesting. “Fuck” is said to be one of the most versatile words in the language. People have argued that it can be used in every part of speech. Can it?
To start, we need to agree on what the parts of speech are.
Parts of speech
Classically speaking, there are eight parts of speech:
- nouns, objects that act or are acted upon: car, dragon, images.
- verbs, which either describe or relate to actions: walk, throw, avoid.
- pronouns, which invoke local context for compression’s sake: he, she, it that, his, whose, yourself.
- adjectives, which modify nouns: red, big, unique, seven, seventh.
- adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or entire sentences: truly, fortunately, very, not.
- prepositions, which either:
- relate an additional object into the sentence, typically declaring a spatial, causal, or temporal relationship: after, beyond, beneath, despite, near, up.
- function as idiomatic particles that modify verbs: to mess up, to act out, to go on, to put up with.
- conjunctions, which connect complete ideas: and, because, until, while.
- interjections, which express emotion: D’oh! Zounds!
There is some subjectivity around this. Some linguists separate determiners (a/an, the) and numbers (one, first) from adjectives. We won’t.
Some cases admit multiple interpretations. For example, consider the word “yes” in the following:
Yes, I will go to the fucking store.
Some would call it an interjection indicating agreement. Others would consider it a sentence adverb like frankly or unfortunately. We’ll take the attitude that multiple interpretations can be valid, and use the one that seems to make the most sense.
In fact, for the sentence “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”, there are a myriad of potential parses (and this ambiguity is one of the reasons it’s not a very good sentence). We shall treat grammar as descriptive rather than prescriptive: that is, taking a focus on what people do with words rather than trying to opine on what they should do with words.
How versatile is fuck? To wit, can we parse
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
as a valid English sentence, in which each of the eight classical parts of speech occurs exactly once?
It seems a tall order.
As soon as we step away from the original verb, we encounter other fuck-words than fuck, like the noun fucker, the intensifying adjective and adverb, fucking. It’s rare to see the bare fuck in, say, an adverbial context. But I’ll show how it can be done.
The easy ones: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection.
It’s not that hard find use for the word fuck as a noun:
I don’t give a fuck.
This fuck over here thinks he’s in charge.
In its native form, it’s a transitive verb:
Not sleeping before a test can really fuck you.
But it can also be intransitive.
This guy fucks.
In both cases, it can be used with a particle:
Don’t fuck around.
He fucked me over.
It both has and integrates well with familiar verb forms (e.g., gerunds, participles):
The codebase is fucked.
I’m just fucking with you.
I told you not to fucking split an infinitive.
It’s not hard to find it used in a pronoun:
Whoever-the-fuck microwaved fish better not do it again.
Ask fuck over there why he didn’t file his TPS reports.
When used as an adjective or adverb, it’s usually found in this fucking form:
This fucking jerk won’t quit.
The light turned fucking red.
Of course, there’s the classic and minimalistic interjection.
So, we’re familiar with fuck’s versatility. The question is: do we need all these fuck conjugates– such as fucking, fucked, and fuckers– in order to cover all six parts of speech? The answer is no. We have covered four cases: the noun, the verb, the pronoun, and the interjection.
What about the adjective?
We don’t have to settle for fucking. The bare word fuck can be used:
Our CEO wasted $20 million on a fuck castle in Manhattan.
Is a fuck castle less valid than running shoes, a drive( )way, or a trash can? Morally, perhaps. Grammatically, no.
Another way to use fuck as an adjective is:
Fuck that fuck fuck.
The first fuck is a verb expressing contempt. The second fuck is an adjective and the third is a pronoun. (Yes, there’s fuck redundancy here.)
What about fuck as an adverb? There are multiple routes to an adverbial fuck.
First, note that most adjectives can double as adverbs. Notice that I just used a flat adverb (“first”, not “firstly”). That’s valid English. Some people don’t like flat adverbs, but there’s nothing wrong with them. The “-ly” suffix is usually a matter of style, not grammar. There is nothing wrong with the sentence “Drive slow(
ly).” In fact, most of us prefer it.
How does this apply to fuck? One could defensibly use fuck as an adverb like so:
He fuck drove 150 miles to see her.
The adverb explains the purpose of the driving.
Second, we can arguably substitute fuck (again, a flat adverb) for the intensifier fucking, like so:
ing) stole my roast beef.
The Republican Party is fuck full of racists.
We can all agree that “fuck full” has a different cadence than “fucking full”. Which one works better depends on the context, but I think we can agree that the Republican party is fuck full of racists.
Fuck can be used as a whole-sentence adverb connoting resignation or bewilderment.
Fuck, I don’t know why that’s in my freezer.
Fuck, I guess you’re right.
For all the adverbial fucks one can give, it’s somewhat surprising that fuckly isn’t a word. That’s probably for the better, though. I struggle to find a use for fuckly that isn’t fugly. I really have tried but fuckly I haven’t found it.
Soon, we’ll engage with fuck’s status as “a bad word“, but it’s not. Profanity is a language of extremes and melodrama. It wasn’t a difficult day at the office; it was a fucking shitstorm.
Much of what makes a word profane is the social class of the people who use it. The poor use it because it’s appropriate to a pissed-off, put-upon worker. The rich use it because their work is the ownership (in today’s world, rendered abstract by misdirection) of the other humans who do the actual work. The prim gentry– largely irrelevant, as is growing more the case as time passes– deem these words unsightly, but who cares about those uptight fucks? In today’s world, it’s rare to meet a person who doesn’t use words like fuck and shit; the truly middle class jobs are gone, and so have the middle-class attitudes that made the middle twentieth century so safe and boring.
Profanity also appeals to the extremes of the cognitive continuum. The high-minded use profanity because it is an amusing subject of study, or in the portrayal of strong emotion, or (quite often) because none of us are as purely high-minded as we like to think. The low-minded love profanity because it’s the only rhetorical device they have. It unites us. It’s those in the middle cognitive class that use and create phlegmatic monstrosities, like calling someone “not a team player” instead of “an asshole”.
Profanity has its fucking place, is what I’m saying. Sometimes, fuck is a great word.
Now, let’s see about the other two parts of speech.
An Aside on Transference
Why is it harder to use fuck as a conjunction or preposition?
These parts of speech are often called closed categories. That is, we act as if there are a fixed number of them in the English language, which rarely change in meaning, and which are well-known to even intermediate speakers of the language.
Those must evolve slowly, because they give the logical structure of the language. We know we will need to expand the object pool (nouns) on which the language operates. There are more things in heaven and earth than can be denoted with the 40,000-or-so words we still care to use regularly. Nouns are an open category– in fact, the most open. There was no word internet in 1940. There is now. In fact, there’s the proper noun:
Al Gore invented the Internet.
as well as the common noun, pertaining not to the network itself but, rather, access to it:
There’s no internet, so you’ll have to fuck with the router.
Furthermore, it has crossed over into the realm of the adjective and adverb.
I have a fast internet connection.
I only “internet know” him.
They evolve slowly, and they have to, because they pertain to the logical structure of the language rather than the object pool (of indefinite size) on which the language operates.
Words transfer. One of the most common transferences is when a noun gets verbed. This occasionally produces excellent verbs. It far too often produces terrible ones– verbortions, I call them.
The business world is full of verbortions, and it’s easy to see why. For all their alpha-male posturing, every business executive is either a subordinate or a salesperson (which is another form of a subordinate) and these men recognize the impossibility of integrating this fact with their masculine identity. Hence, we endure the maudlin metaphors taken from:
- sports (“keep your eye on the ball“)
- primal conflict (“she’s not pulling the cart, she’s in the cart”)
- drinking (“you’re gonna have to pick your poison“)
- hunting (“we have an ‘eat what you kill‘ culture”),
- …and last but certainly not least:
- war (“our mission is to blow up the entrenched adult coloring book industry!”).
Those all exist because a bunch of middle-aged, effete fucks want to feel like men again, rather than the modern-day perfumed courtiers they are. That’s the truth of it. “I am a division manager! People are scared of me!”
What does this have to do with verbing? I may be reaching here, but our culture (and, arguably, most human culture) seems to judge women on what (it thinks) they are, and men on what (it thinks) they do. Is that right or wrong? Arguably wrong. Biologically essential? Probably not. I don’t care, for now, to debate morality. It recurs in human cultures. And to fully understand the corporate system, you have to invent a third gender (the macho-subordinate corporate gender) that includes the worst traits of both: (stereotypically) masculine overconfidence and (again, stereotypically) feminine cattiness; masculine sloppiness and feminine duplicity; masculine malevolence and feminine passive aggression. That topic could easily justify ten thousand words on its own, but let’s not digress further. The corporate gender wants desperately to assert its masculinity despite humiliating subordination, and it perverts the language in order to do so, and one of its many tricks is to emphasize verbs of activity.
As a result, we get verbortions like to impact, to incentivize, and to operationalize. As the macho-subordinate corporate gender (which views what is feminine as boring, but to bore as masculine) loves extra syllables, we also get the bastardized version of to utilize, which business people think is a synonym for to use. It is not. To utilize something is to find a use for it.
If fuck weren’t considered profane, some word fucker (here, meaning “one who fucks words” not “some fucker with an affinity for words”) with an MBA would derive all sorts of verbotions from it. One would no longer fuck, one would fuckerize. This would lead to monstrosities such as:
As you know, Bob, at 2:30 in Lion’s Head Savannah– the new conference room– we’re having a fuckerization capacity roadmap meeting. Don’t be late, Bob. No fucker gets to show up late to my fuckerization meetings, Bob.
Fuck everything about that.
There is one exception to my view of grammar being descriptive, rather than prescriptive, and that is when those with malignant intentions pervert language.
There ain’t nothing wrong with the word ain’t. Double negatives can be confusing, with occasional idioms that run contrary to logic, but je ne pense pas the French are too confounded by them. Many language gripes are historical and class based. If the poor use the word shit and the rich use feces, we start calling shit a swear word. This, I reject. Why should history’s prejudices limit the words I can use today?
The excrement coming out of the mouths of Harvard MBAs, though, that will never be acceptable, except in fiction when spoken by a character who will suffer. If these twerps invent a new word, it becomes stupid automatically because of its origin, in the same way that some people can make an expensive suit cheap just by wearing it.
I do not wish, in my linguistic and stylistic prejudices, to punch down the socioeconomic hierarchy. Nor do I wish to denigrate those who, through no fault of their own, were born either with low overall cognitive capacity or a lack of facility with language per se. I’m not better than them; I’m just luckier. The “synergizers”, though? I am better than those fucks. They weren’t born with low natural intelligence; they became stupid by accepting illegitimate authority for decades. They were born smart and chose stupidity, because they are uncultured, intellectually lazy, and prone to petty malevolence.
When we’re dealing with an artless overclass, we’re punching up; when we’re dealing with people who harbor mediocre and often destructive ideas, and who use crappy language to disguise what they’re doing, I punch hard and will call these usages objectively wrong. Fuck “operationalize”. Fuck “circle back”. Fuck “at the end of the day”. unless one is talking about evening hours of a literal day. Fuck “swim lanes”, except when they validly exist in a pool. Fuck “utilize”, except when it means (as discussed) to find a use for something. Fuck the stupid sports metaphors and the offensive appropriated military jargon. Fuck the euphemisms (“restructuring”) these simians in suits use to trick themselves into believing they aren’t talking about hurting people for their own profit. Fuck all their stupid phrases that are cliché the first time they are said, because they are used by cliché people with cut-rate minds.
Why do I speak and write well, while the synergizers use crappy, flaccid language? I wasn’t born with perfect grammar or style. (Hell, I don’t have perfect grammar or style now.) It’s not something I inherited. I worked hard and continue to do so. The world is becoming a more dangerous place because so many of our important institutions (that is, business corporations) are run by people who abuse language (accidentally and malevolently) because they are characterized by an imprecision of thought.
Anyway… rant over. Let’s get back to fuck.
Formal English doesn’t exist, technically speaking. What we consider grammatical is somewhat fuzzy and when we debate what is right or wrong, we are mostly discussing style. Style isn’t about what’s right, but what’s best.
For example, one could call a person a fuckwit, a fuck-wit, or a fuck wit. None of those is more right than the other. All are defensible. But, it would be jarring to encounter “fuckwit” on page 17 of a book, and “fuck wit” on page 73.
Most sensible style guides will treat prepositions and conjunctions as closed categories. As these pertain to the logical structure of the language, they shouldn’t diverge much from common knowledge. No formal body says one can’t invent new prepositions willy-nilly, but that doesn’t mean one should.
We are, of course, stepping away from conventional style at this point. Why? Because no sensible style guide would encourage the sentence “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.” as anything but an interjection.
So, if we’re going to be aggressively informal anyway, getting fuck to be a preposition isn’t hard. A strong candidate usage already exists: fuck is often used as a crude synonym for despite. The sentence:
I’m wearing orange, fuck the dress code.
is not a comma-spliced request that the second person copulate with the dress code. The speaker is wearing orange despite a dress code precluding it.
There’s a second approach I want to talk about: alhough prepositions often bring an object into the sentence (as above) they are sometimes more local in effect, modifying a verb. These are called particles. They are often idiomatic: to fuck up has nothing to do with the direction up and there is only sometimes literal fucking involved. Some particles change a verb’s meaning while others are unnecessary (e.g., to slow down, to hurry up, to prattle on).
There are a bunch of great particled fucks already: to fuck up, to fuck off, to fuck around, to fuck over, and to fuck with someone. They all have different meanings. To fuck up is (intransitively) to fail, or (transitively) to damage. To fuck off is to be unproductive or to leave. To fuck around either corresponds to unproductiveness (fucking off) or promiscuity. To fuck someone over is to defraud him. To fuck with someone is confuse or annoy him, although to fuck with some thing is to fuck it up.
Arguably, most verbs can be made into particles, by repetition. “Do you work here, or do you work work here?” That question means: are you nominally employed here, or do you perform useful work? (In most businesses, the former does not imply the latter, and the most highly compensated people are those who bring least or negative value.)
This doubled verb, like “literally”– again, I am being descriptive rather than prescriptive– can either function as an intensifier or it can invoke an older (and therefore truer, more literal) meaning of the word.
#1: “You have already admitted–”
#2: “I said that I sleep sleep with my dogs.”
#1: “You did.”
#2: “No. I sleep sleep with them. Literally sleep.
#1: “You know, I already heard you and I wish you wouldn’t–”
#2: “You do not understand. I did not double the verb to say emphatically that I copulate with dogs. Rather, I enter the state of consciousness necessary for routine neurological maintenance in their presence. I assume they do the same.”
#1: “Oh. (Pause.) Forget what I said about ride-riding horses, then.”
(The train arrives and they enter separate cars.)
A literal ton of people comprises about fifteen, literally freezing is (from a cold-climate perspective) a pleasant winter day, and it is quite fine to literally (if not figuratively) sleep with your dogs.
I shall not give faithful examples of to fuck fuck, since the literality involved in such sentences would compromise this essay’s PG-13 rating. This fuck essay is intended to be admissible in polite fucking company.
I will say this much: the repeated verb particle is unusual in that it is prepended, whereas most prepositions, despite the “pre-” in the name” preposition”, are postfix. How do we know? The past tense of “to go on” may be “went on”, but the past tense of “to fuck fuck” is “fuck fucked”, not “
fucked fuck“. Also, Tom can fuck Sarah over and he can fuck fuck Sarah but he cannot fuck Sarah fuck.
Although it is rare in English to prepend a preposition, it’s not without precedent. The progressive adjective of “to go on” is not “going-on” but “ongoing”.
To be a conjunction is, ironically, difficult for “fuck”
We have utilized fuck for seven parts of speech. What remains is the conjunction. This is the hardest, because there aren’t many conjunctions. It seems to be the most closed category of all of them. Informally, there’s a commonly used fuck-derived one, be-fucking-cause. That seems to be as good as we can get, right?
No. The bare word fuck is a conjunction already. It is similar to “and” but intensifies its postfix clause. In other words, it’s an “and” with a crescendo. Like so:
Someone should fix it, fuck I’ll do it myself.
Here, fuck isn’t a preposition, because it’s not a particle and it doesn’t relate an object into the sentence. It joins clauses. So it’s a conjunction
Moreover, unlike the prepositional fuck (which is indistinguishable from despite) it has a unique meaning. The conjunction fuck is logically equivalent to “and” but its connotations make it more flexible. For a contrast, consider the sentence:
Someone should fix it,
andI’ll do it myself.
That’s a logically correct sentence, but it rings false. A speaker using the emotionless conjunction “and” would be unlikely to prepend his declaration (I’m going to fix this) with a passive-aggressive comment about “someone”. He would just say, “I’ll fix it.”
When fuck is a preposition, it diminishes.
I’m going, fuck the snow.
Yet as a conjunction, it performs an opposite function: it’s an accelerant.
It’s cold, fuck it’s even snowing.
Fuck has not gained this extreme versatility in spite of, but because it holds status as “the most offensive word in the English language” (even though it no longer is). It can be an intensifier that draws attention to itself (“fucking angry”) or a token of resignation. In the latter case, it’s a placeholder, a throwaway word– a true expletive. It’s there because the speaker cares so little, he might as well just put the “most” offensive word possible there.
Fuck, just put the word “fuck” there, for all I care.
Fuck, one might say, serves as a fuck-it word.
Building the fuck string sentence
How many fucks can we string together and have a working sentence, without using a part of speech twice or abusing proper nouns?
For now, we’ll ignore punctuation. Anything is allowed as long as it gets our fucks together.
The one-word “chain” is trivial. Mind the interjection:
It means, “I am experiencing surprise or sudden displeasure.”
Two is easy, too:
This sentence, in the imperative mood, requests the address either dislike, ignore, or stop using the word “fuck”. “Fuck your phone” means “ignore your phone” and “fuck the car” means “do not use the car” and “fuck Trump” means “I dislike Trump”. So, “fuck ‘fuck'” could mean “do not use the word ‘fuck'” or it could mean “I do not like the word ‘fuck’.”
At three words, several possibilities emerge.
Fuck, fuck “fuck”.
Pronoun, verb, noun. The comma is not necessary; it has been placed there for clarity’s sake. Here, we’re still in the imperative mood (otherwise, we would have resort to “Fuck fucks ‘fuck'”) but the sentence addresses a group of people. This is “Tom goes home” as opposed to “Tom goes home.” It’s assumed that there’s a contextual reason why the pronoun “fuck” applies to one member of the audience, who knows who he is.
As in: hey fuck, please stop using the word “fuck”.
Nothing in language precludes hypocrisy.
At four, this is just one of the possibilities:
Fuck, fuck fuck “fuck”.
Pronoun, verb, adjective, noun.
This is more of the same, although the speaker is expressing an attitude about the word “fuck”. Just as “Go see asshole Ian before the 11:00 meeting” expresses the attitude that Ian is an asshole, “fuck fuck ‘fuck'” expresses the attitude that the word “fuck” is a fuck.
At five words, we have:
Fuck; fuck, fuck fuck “fuck”.
Adverb, pronoun, verb, adjective, noun.
The semicolon functions as a second-level comma setting apart a sentence adverb. Neither it nor the comma is needed. The sentence adverb expresses resigned exasperation, so it is the same as the four-fuck sentence above, but with an aged tetchiness to the request.
Before we reach levels six, seven, and eight, I’d like to take a couple detours. First, we’ll talk about punctuation. Then we’ll talk about expletives– words added for flavoring, but that have no semantic importance. Understanding both will be be necessary if we want to make a sentence out of “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
An Aside: Punctuation
Some punctuation is necessary for proper grammar, but most of it is stylistic. Of course, we need the sentence-ending period (or, for the Brits, full stop). The rest are more dispensable; in fact, many of these marks are quite new, and their meanings change over time.
Exclamation points are disliked by many writers, and they are overused in bad genre novels. (“He had a gun!”) Still, I will argue that they hold value. For example:
“Get out,” he said.
“Get out!” he said.
are different lines of dialogue. The first seems to express cold anger; the other, hot.
Of course, most exclamation points one encounters can be taken out with little loss. Strong writers prefer, when possible, to use the words themselves rather than exclamation points (or, gross, italics) to deliver emphasis. Words are our tools, dammit.
Both “Fuck!” and “Fuck.” are valid interjections and mean roughly the same fuck thing. We can therefore dispense with exclamation points. They do not need to accompany interjections.
Question marks won’t be featured here, so I cut my long digression on when and where they are necessary, as well as a divergent rant about so-called “rhetorical questions”.
Ellipses, which we will encounter, are almost never essential. They can add clarity to a long sentence that requires multiple levels of structure to be clear.
I went to the fucking deli, bought two fucking bags of chips, then drove to the liquor store, which was closed, so I fucking stole a case of beer from work, but the fucking cleaners came in, so I spent the fucking night in jail… all because you fuckers fucked up the plan.
The ellipsis lives lower in the parse tree than the comma.
We are doomed to see more of the ellipsis, at least in the business world, where it functions as an all-purpose punctuation mark. For example:
He said this: it would be “not my problem” if your TPS reports weren’t in by Friday. Does this make sense?
can be converted to:
[4:37 PM] asshole: he said this… it would be… not my problem… if your tps reports weren’t in by friday… does this make sense…
Power tripping middle managers love to overuse the ellipsis. It’s creepy as hell, which makes it intimidating, but because of its can-function-as-any-punctuation-mark nature it has plausible deniability. The poor grammar and worse style of highly-placed business guys are not accidents of stupidity. Rather, they’re passive-aggressive linguistic fuck-you’s (saying: you’re not worth the time to compose a proper sentence) that can be explained away as expediency. Who has time these days to care about proper spelling and grammar?
Well, I do. I imagine anyone who’s read this far also does.
Next, we have a recent invention: quotation marks. I would argue that these are not grammatical in nature at all, but pure style. That is, all of these are grammatically valid.
Shit, he said, the car won’t start.
Shit, he said, the car won’t start.
“Shit”, he said, “the car won’t start.”
Shit, he thought, the car won’t start.
Shit, he thought, the car won’t start.
“Shit,” he thought, “the car won’t start.”
That being said, it is extremely nonstandard these days to use quotation marks for thought, or italics for speech. It will piss people off. And “fuck” everything about using quotation marks for emphasis. Finally, while quoting without marks works beautifully for Cormac McCarthy, I think few people can pull it off. When you use nonstandard style, you must show that you’re not one of those corporate fucks who is “nonstandard” by accident.
There is not even standard agreement on what quotation marks mean. Classically (and Britishly) single quotes apply to phrases being used as single words:
It was very ‘seat of my pants’ if you know what I mean.
whereas double quotes apply strictly to quotations.
Bob said, “I’ll be there at ten o’clock” and I don’t think he was ‘full of shit’.
But this distinction is rarely made. It is more common to see single quotes used for both purposes in British English and double quotes for both in American English.
There is a (non-terminal) punctuation mark that is not always stylistic, but sometimes essential: the comma. Commas are weird, and fun. They’re a lot more complicated than they seem, and I won’t get in to all their glorious capabilities. Commas don’t exist (not as such) in speech, and seem to be a fairly recent invention, but they induce semantic changes. Yes, there are sentences that are valid without their comma even though it is stylistically preferred to use one. (I just used one.) There are also sentences that fall apart or change meaning without their comma. Consider this example:
It wasn’t cold, because it was February.
As written, this sentence is valid in Sydney but invalid in New York. Take out the comma and it’s valid in New York but not in Sydney. With the comma, it acknowledges that February should not be cold (because that’s summer in Australia) whereas with the comma, it acknowledges that February is cold (as in New York) but asserts that it was cold for some other reason. Indoors, one would not expect it to be cold any time of year, so the sentence asserts that it was cold for some other reason.
In building up our eight-fuck sentence, however, we’ll steer clear of essential commas. Any commas we use will be disposable.
To use each part of speech exactly once is hard, because we only get one verb and two nouns (one regular noun, one pronoun). Conjunctions and prepositions are typically thought of as relators, and having one of each means we have to relate three things, and it’s hard to do that with the one-verb limitation.
So we need to talk about expletives. What is there to say about expletives, eh?
Many people who aren’t linguists use the word “expletive” to mean profanity, which is annoying. Most expletives aren’t profane. An expletive is a word that contributes little or nothing to the meaning of the sentence. They can, however, add flavor or emotion. Expletives are more interesting than mere profanity. Expletives can be fucking great! Or they can be
just really fucking unnecessary.
Furthermore, not all profanity is expletive. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. In “Grab me my fucking coat”, the fucking can be thrown away, so that’s an expletive. In “I fucked up”, the fuck must stay where it is.
It’s worth understanding expletives, because they’re often used against us. Business writing is chock-full of expletives:
Out of curiosity, Bob, and reallyI’m justasking so we’re on the same page, do you harbor thisdesire to acceleratethe termination processAlice faces because of the healthcare coverage overhead in relation toher pregnancy or is this sought after by this organization for some other, and perhaps entirely ancillary, reason that was discussed at a prior time?
Why so? Well, one reason we use filler words (and we all do) is to maintain conversational control (that is, avoid being interrupted) while forming thoughts. Many corporates’ brains have turned to mush from playing Minesweeper for twenty years and they need a whole lot of filler words because it takes time for coherent thoughts to form. However, although the corporate world is staffed mostly by stupid people, it’s the smart-and-evil people who make decisions, and they use the same insipid verbosity, for a different reason: to slow down bad news, and to cover up malignant intent.
If people in the corporate world started saying what they mean, the whole system would collapse in a matter of hours. See, most business communication is about doing things that hurt people, because capitalism stopped innovating decades ago and the only thing left for these people to do is zero-sum value redirection.
The business world’s shitty verbose writing, full of ill-advised passive voice, creepy newspeak, and artless expletives is necessary because the verbosity slows down bad news. A company doesn’t “lie for a month so it can fire a pregnant woman”; rather it “constructs and implements a thirty-day performance improvement plan”. Instead of an executive saying, “Bob, be a cunt to your underlings so I get what I want”, he prefers, “Bob, please take the time to develop, communicate, and implement a policy of individual accountability for your team.”
If people spoke frankly about this stuff, they would realize that they’re all doing horrible things (to each other, and to the public) for the benefit of even more horrible rich people, and that they’re slowing down their own minds for no good reason. The corporate world would fall to rubble within hours (ahem, “at the end of the day”) if people dropped this language of “synergizing” and acknowledged, to themselves and each other, what was going on and what they were actually meaning.
Expletives rarely have explicit semantic meaning, but they control cadence. Poets and rappers love them for the purpose of art and rhythm; business people love them for the purpose of artlessness and misdirection. They matter.
As fascinating as expletives are, there’s one that’s especially interesting, and it’s not even a fuck phrase: the lovely “and shit”.
It could become a fuck phrase. Profanity, especially when expletive in nature, tends to allow substitutions. “What in the hell…” became “What the hell…” (implied preposition) and later the (strictly speaking, illogical) “What the fuck…” construction. But there’s no reason it has to stop there. We could ask why the cock the printer isn’t working, who the cunt let the dog out this time, or what the tits we’re going to do with ourselves after Game of Thrones is over, since Farisa and the Antipodes series probably won’t reach a screen until the mid 2030s.
The “what the fuck” construction doesn’t have anything to do with any of fuck’s numerous meanings, and neither does “and shit” have much to do with defecation. When someone says “I’m going to eat rice, beans, beef(,) and shit”, the shit functions as a synonym for “nothing”. This particular shit is the list monoid’s identity element. He’s not saying that there will be feces in his lunch; he’s appending two more words to give himself time to decide whether there is more he wants to say.
In that sentence, though, the “and” is clearly conjunctive– not expletive. The shit can be tossed aside, but “and” cannot.
Oddly enough, as we often find with profanity, there are opposite purposes applied to the same word. The postfix shit is opposite in meaning to the more common prefix shit. The prefix shit expresses strong emotion, as in:
Shit, I lost my car keys.
Yet the postfix shit of “and shit” is almost aggressive in its anticlimax. It is an admission that one has nothing more to say.
A conjunction, we note, need not connect two full clauses. It can connect a clause to an expletive or interjection. We’ll need to use that in order to make our eight-fuck rainbow sentence.
Completing the chain: eight fucks.
We’ve seen how a five-fuck sequence can function as a sentence. We can add two more: “fuck… fuck!” at the end. It is nonstandard, redundant, and unattractive; but it is not formally wrong.
Fuck; fuck, fuck fuck “fuck”… fuck fuck!
Adverb, pronoun, verb, adjective, noun, conjunction, interjection.
The “fuck fuck!” is similar in form to “and shit” but suggests an acceleration of emotion. When it is used this way, there must be more stress on the second fuck; it is strictly iambic. Fuck fuck! The fuck conjunction is appended to the command (telling fuck to stop using the word “fuck”) to suggest that a more powerful or emotional command will come, but then the speaker’s emotion runs high and he can only manage the interjection: fuck!
In full, it means:
I am exasperated to say (fuck / adverb) that this person I find contemptible (fuck / pronoun) must disavow (fuck / verb) a word, one I strongly dislike (fuck / adjective), and that word is “fuck” (fuck / noun) and I further (fuck / conjunction) wish to say– pardon me, I am consumed with emotion (fuck / interjection).
That gets us to seven. We’re close to being done with this fucking fuck mess. Seven out of eight. 87.5 percent. Isn’t that a B? It’s at least an F-plus.
One way to integrate a prepositional fuck into this sentence is the cheap one: to use the particle, the repeated verb. Of course, this is semantically invalid. I shan’t cover the oldest and therefore most literal meaning of “fuck”, for it is not proper to discuss such topics in respectable essays like this one, but that meaning pertains to something one cannot do with a word. One can fuck “fuck”– that is, ignore or stop using it. One cannot fuck-fuck “fuck”. Right?
Well, hold on. “Literally” is more complicated than it looks. For one thing, it has been used (arguably, misused) as an intensifier for hundreds of years. I don’t especially like this, but it’s not a (figurative, I hope) battle I wish to fight. Moreover, the complexities of language make it impossible to define correctness around this word.
Why is “literally” so complicated? Well, take this sentence:
Tom was literally fired on his first day of work.
If the core premise (that Tom lost his job before his first working day ended) were true, would this be a misuse of “literally”? Most of us would say no. He literally lost his job. It literally happened on the first day.
However, Tom wasn’t literally set on fire. He wasn’t literally discharged from a cannon. What probably began as a dysphemism for losing a job has become a standard (and old enough to be “literal”) term for it. We all know what getting fired means. Perhaps, at some time in the past, it would have been considered incorrect to say that Tom was literally fired. These days, though, we roll with it (literally).
The core question is: does correct use of literally demand that we drop one level to an older meaning, or must we drop to the oldest meaning? Given how languages evolve, is an oldest meaning even definable or accessible?
This line of reasoning applies to “fuck”. It has acquired myriad meanings, some euphemistic, most dysphemistic, and very few of those meanings have anything to do with what the word originally meant. As we’re taking the approach that grammar is descriptive, we should accept sentences like these:
No, I mean the merger literally fucked me.
No, I mean the merger fuck-fucked me.
The merger did not of course fuck him in the oldest sense of the word, but the speaker may have been literally cheated in the process, and wish to emphasize the injustice with literally (a usage to which many take exception) or, alternatively, with repetition.
So, one eight-fuck sentence we could construct would be:
Fuck; fuck, fuck-fuck fuck “fuck”… fuck fuck!
Adverb, pronoun, preposition (as particle), verb, adjective, noun, conjunction, interjection.
Word for word, it translates as:
Exasperatedly [I say to you, whom I consider an] asshole, literally penetrate [the] disliked [word] ‘fuck’, [and] furthermore… [I am currently experiencing] Anger!”
A safe-for-work version is:
Exasperatedly, idiot, literally penetrate disliked word; furthermore, gah!
In our eight-fuck sentence, we can dispense with the semicolon. Sentence adverbs aren’t always set apart with a separator. Often, they are. Sometimes they aren’t. We’ll get rid of it here. The same goes for the comma after the pronoun used to signify the addressee. The hyphen can likewise be dropped (all three of: fuckoff, fuck-off, and “fuck off” are correct; we’ll treat our fuck-fuck as the same) as can the ellipsis. The terminal exclamation point can be softened to a period. Finally, we can drop the quotation marks. And thus we have:
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
That’s one potential way to parse the sentence. There are others. For example, one who disliked the repeated-verb particle might demand we use the preposition as a relator instead. Let’s do that.
(you) Fuck “fuck”– fuck fuck!– fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Verb, noun, conjunction, interjection, preposition, adverb, adjective, pronoun.
There’s an understood second person for the imperative sentence, who is being asked to disavow or stop using the word “fuck”. The speaker exhibits a self-interruption driven by emotion, and then returns to the original sentence with a prepositional phrase, the fifth fuck meaning “despite”, and refers to someone so dislike as to be called “fuck fuck fuck”.
An approximate word-for-word translation would be:
Disfavor [the word] “fuck”– furthermore [I’m] angry– despite [the wishes of this] extremely unpleasant shithead.
My preferred safe-for-work version isn’t much different:
Disfavor profanity with prejudice despite very stupid individual.
In this fuck string, it’s unclear whether we can dispense with all the punctuation. The quotation marks and the exclamation point, yes. What about the dashes? That’s less clear. The “fuck fuck!” here is somewhat similar to “and dammit!”, and here we can see the problem
You– and dammit!– were right all along.
That’s at least a semi-standard sentence. Take out the punctuation, though:
You and dammit were right all along.
And it raises (not begs) the question: who’s dammit?
So we probably have to keep the dashes and exclamation point. Damn.
Fuck fuck– fuck fuck!– fuck fuck fuck fuck.
The conclusion of this is that, in fact, we can (in more than one way) string eight fucks together, each functioning as a different classical part of speech, and form a valid sentence.
The first one is similar in meaning to:
With exasperation, I request that you, whom I view as an unpleasant person, share my negative feelings toward a word that I dislike so much I am willing to engage in carnal dysphemism to intensify my request, and furthermore I have become so incensed I am prone to verbal ejaculations that may be out of my stated character.
The second parsing means, in full:
Cease use of that four-letter word– I emphasize this strongly– and ignore the influence of a person I find so crude and base as to evoke repetition in describing him as such.
None of this is pretty. The sentence, in its crisp eight-word form, with its staccato chanting of one plosive syllable, is ambiguous, repetitive, and arguably a bit artless. It is clearly informal, as any sentence using all eight parts of speech (*cough*, interjections) must be, but there’s nothing technically wrong with it.
Or, for a better way to put it… it’s fucked up, but it works.