Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The F-word

To someone who grew up in the United States, one of the most shocking things about living in Belgium is hearing the f-word on the radio and on TV. See? I can't even bring myself to write the dreaded f-word! I have to type "f-word" because the real four-letter word is so taboo. You just don't say it (except in private, of course). But here in Belgium, it's hardly even considered a dirty word.

Or maybe they just don't have the same squeamishness about foul language that we Americans do. Sometimes I wonder if it's because it's an English word, and therefore doesn't have the same impact on a Dutch speaker that it does on an English speaker. Sort of like how in high school, we'd say "merde" because we wouldn't get in trouble for using a French curse word, and anyway it sounded more sophisticated than "shit."

The regular TV stations here broadcast American shows that originated on cable, like "Weeds," "Dexter," and "Mad Men," with all the bad words intact. Also, R-rated movies are regularly shown on television without the f-word bleeped or edited out.

But the real shocker, for me, was hearing songs on the radio that could never be broadcast back home. One of the first songs I heard with the f-word was "Fuck You" by Lily Allen--a big hit over here. Later, it was another song with the same title by Cee Lo Green, which was in heavy rotation for months. The first time I heard it, I thought, that can't be what he's singing. But it was! And then I thought, I can't believe that's on the radio!

A few years ago, a popular radio personality in Los Angeles was fired from the local public radio affiliate for dropping the f-bomb during a taped segment. There was a huge outcry, as people protested that the punishment far outweighed the crime. Maybe the station management overreacted, but it's a violation of FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations to say "fuck" on the radio in the United States. Not so, here in Belgium.

Herewith, I give you the video for Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You," in all its vulgar, obscenity-laden glory. Apparently he recorded another version for American radio called "Forget You." Somehow it just doesn't have the same ring.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head; One of my students at the elementary school is also the son of my neighbor across the street. One day I punished him in class for saying 'Shit!' He came to get me that evening so I could explain to his parents and his father confessed that they say that all the time at their house because it's not a French swear word so it doesn't count. Merde, however, is bad. :)

  2. I always figured it doesn't feel the same because it is in a foreign language. Saying in Dutch the translation would be much much more offensive.

    Then I wonder why there is so much music/movies/tv shows full of f-words available if it is so offensive. I don't think we have such an offer in the media with Dutch (therefore truly offensive) cursing available.

    And watching US tv...geez that constant beeping makes you go mad. And why is that beeping better if you know what's beeped out every so frequent anyway?

    so my feeling is: there is sooooo much more cursing in Anglo-Saxon media...being beeped out in a very annoying way , yet you know it's there and for us...we just leave it in. It doesn't feel strong at all anyway. To be honest, I think I use some of these words in the office , with my boss present when eg I sent an e-mail forgetting the attachment.