La bombe d’F

grasse de phoque

A wave of Americanism has been sweeping through Paris over the past few years, from le street food (which, finally, is actually being served on the street) to a desire to remake Paris in the image of New York. Or more to the point, Brooklyn.

Brooklyn in Paris

I don’t quite know where this came from, but I do wish it would stop. Granted, in the US, we have our share of “French-style” kitchen gadgets (most of which I’ve never seen in France) and croissan’wiches (which I am now seeing in France), but hopefully we still have enough international goodwill so the French will overlook some of our infractions. Yet a new trend has been sweeping through France and I’m not sure it’s building much goodwill in the other direction, in spite of how benign they might think it to be.

(Speaking of good-will, I should probably let you know that even though I am too bien élevé, or well-raised as they say in France, and don’t have a potty-mouth, there are some pictures that use a 4-letter word in this post. So if that might be offensive to you…and I have to admit, they make me wince as well – although I don’t have a choice because they’re all around me – you might want to not scroll down or click after the jump, and skip this post.)

I was listening to some music the other day from a French radio station called FG, and the “FG” used to stand for Fréquence Gay which was owned by the French government (confirming all those fears about the French to certain political elements outside of the country), for those party-loving residents of the Marais and elsewhere. I’m not sure how important sexual orientation is to choosing a radio station, but it’s one of the stations on my playlist because the “trance music” is good for when I’m working on recipes and don’t want to be too distracted. Well, that’s my story anyway.

FG Radio

When I lived in the states, my background “music” was E! television, in the pre-Kardashian years. It had everything you wanted in a television station; supermodels, irreverent shows that made fun of other shows, documentaries about the demise of backbiting 80s bands, scathing fashion gossip, and talk shows hosted by fabulous drag queens. The best part about it was that you didn’t have to pay attention. You could finish stirring your crème pâtissière or roll out your tart dough, then resume watching a few minutes later, realizing you haven’t missed anything important.

So how thrilled was I to find out that E! is actually here in France and for the low price of just 99 centimes a month, could be part of my cable line-up? I could not subscribe fast enough and was thrilled beyond belief – until I realized that it was dubbed (VF, or version française) and I realized it’s no fun to watch housewives in New Jersey bickering unless you can hear their actual New Jersey voices, rather than the voice-over of a hysterical Frenchwoman trying her best to imitate them. Which [email protected]&king annoys me.


I normally don’t swear when I write, and find it odd when people do in cookbooks. But after hearing that Radio FG has been recast with a new name, I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with dropping the F-bomb in France, which apparently adds a certain je ne sais pas, or F$%ckin’ French Touch, as it’s now being dubbed in some quarters, to whatever la bombe d’F touches.

Just the other day, I was lost in happiness as I stirred a batch of buttery caramel, simmering away on the stove. But instead of the standard announcement of the name of the station that’s spoken between songs, the Radio FG announcer jolted me back to reality to let me know that I was no longer listening to just any old FG music, but that it was now [email protected]#king Good music.


But it’s not just hit radio where the F-bomb can be heard, or found. I don’t think people cuss in French cookbooks like some do in America, but the Omnivore food festival has created a whole page to promote their F#%king Dinners, so you can keep f*%king track of them. (I did notice that the name is rechristened for use in other countries, so there must be some inkling out there that it’s a word not to be tossed around lightly.) And call me friggin’ odd, but being from San Francisco, if someone invites you to come for a f%$king dinner, well, let’s just say dining might not be the top activity of the evening.

fcking dinner night

Even though I didn’t get invited to the F$%king dinner in Paris, just like I never got invited to any of those wild dinners in San Francisco either (so thanks to Hélène for letting me use her snapshot of the menu), I’m becoming more confused about how the F-word has taken off in France. They obviously haven’t taken a clue from the probably charming town of F$%king in Austria, that finally get fed up and considered changing its name. (And with a population of 104, obviously they don’t know the actual meaning of the F-word.) I don’t know if people are going to start stealing signs (and WiFi signals) in France, but I see the word appearing more and more on fashionable apparel. The other day I saw a nice-looking chap on the métro with a sporty little cap on that had the F-word printed all over it in big block letters.

And it’s a trend spreading to other fashion choices not just on public transportation, but on the streets. If you ride a motor scooter, you can let the folks behind you know how you feel. And one of my neighbors has even decided to christen his (or her) WiFi connection with the f-word, which is a word usually reserved for when you don’t have an internet connection. So it’s nice to see irony is still alive and well in la France.


It’s said that you should speak another language, one that’s not your native language, for at least ten years before you start swearing in that language. And I’d say that is pretty good advice because I went to a presentation for a high-end food product the other day that was in English, by a presenter for whom English was not his first language. I counted him dropping the F-bomb at least seven times during the thirty minute demo. The first time I chuckled uncomfortably, just because everyone else did and I was trying to be polite. Not that I have any problem with cuss words (and after working in restaurant kitchens for over thirty-five years, if I did, I wouldn’t have lasted thirty-five seconds), but he was nicely dressed in a fashionable suit, was well-groomed, and representing a high-end brand that’s f$%king expensive. And the contrast was startling.

graisse le phoque

Discussing it with a friend here, we guessed that non-native English speakers don’t realize the gravity that particular word has. It’s not like saying “Drat!” or “Oh heck”, but it’s a pretty loaded word that carries so much weight that it was (and maybe still is) the criteria for automatically giving a film an R-rating. And although I giggle when Romain says “phoque“, the French word for seal (such as my trusty tin of seal oil for waterproofing my shoes), I’m still shocked when I walk down the street to see it in a store window, or hear it on television, or used to publicize a gourmet food event. I supposed someday I will stop being so shocked when my delicate ears hear the F-bomb, or PH-bomb, used so freely and just accept it as normale. And not give a fig about it.

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  • Sue Sharp
    October 24, 2013 5:43pm

    I suspect you’re right – users haven’t understood the true impact/meaning of the word to an English speaker. Plus, I find in my corner of rural France (populated by patois-speaking farmers who are happy to call a spade a f*?£ing shovel) that people aren’t shy of using crude language (even in front of an English woman who is also perfectly capable of interpreting the gestures that go with it). Reply

  • October 24, 2013 5:58pm

    That is so weird! (and by the way, I haven’t seen Dubbin for years!)
    I’ve taken to saying d’Fuq? (fuq rhymes with touque) instead of WTF? but only usually when confronted with something out of the ordinary. Reply

  • Karen Creveston
    October 24, 2013 6:04pm

    Here in Central California they still try to “bleep” the cuss words out on both the radio and regular TV. However, a lot of times the bleep will be either just before or just after the word, so you hear it anyway. I was always told that having to use a lot of cuss words meant that you had a limited vocabulary. Thank you David for regularly not cussing in your writing–I enjoy your posts immensely! Reply

  • Vonmoishe
    October 24, 2013 6:06pm

    David, you clearly know what the f$%k you’re talking about. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:08pm

    This reminds me of my year abroad days when my french schoolmates would apologize in english that they had such a poor [email protected]#$-u-bulary in my language and that they were studying at the [email protected]#$. (The “Fac” – Faculte des Lettres.) Reply

  • Fiona
    October 24, 2013 6:13pm

    So, I swear all the f%$king time. Really. (my current fave expression is “Come the f$%k on”, which, let’s face it, doesn’t really mean anything at all)
    But this is SHOCKING! You’re right, it makes me wince each time!
    I thought French using ‘fooding’ was bad enough… Reply

    • October 24, 2013 6:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, the Le Fooding, I just don’t get. It doesn’t mean anything, like expressions such as “So British!” I always want to say, “What (the article) is so British?” – sentences need to have subjects. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:15pm

    I’ve noticed this as well, and I’m glad I’m not the only one bothered by it! Even at my office (in Paris), my French colleagues will frequently use the “F word,” even to the point of naming our autumn/winter lookbook ‘F— Yeah Winter.’ I mean…seriously??? Reply

  • Noelene
    October 24, 2013 6:15pm

    Its ironic given the way the French protect their language – to stp English words entering the lexicon – that this word is becoming “fashionable” . I agree weird.
    Btw is there an equivalent in french for the “yeah no ” phenomenon? Reply

  • Josh Mervis
    October 24, 2013 6:19pm

    After reading this, I think I’m going to stop swearing. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:19pm

    The problem here is that the literal equivalent of the F-bomb in French – foutre – is a common part of everyday colorful – yet not vulgar – French discourse, much more so than the F-bomb is in the US. “C’est foutu” – “it’s f**ked” – is much milder in French than it is in English, as are many of the phrases that build on the verb foutre. The same goes for the equally vivid phrases built on the verbs “emmerder” and “chier” – which don’t have nearly the force or degree of vulgarity that “sh*t” has. It’s kind of like when Americans use “bloody” to sound British yet don’t realize that term’s increased impact in the UK. Moral of the story? Seek a competent native speaker if you’re using a foreign language in your ads. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:25pm

    And to think I felt bad for letting “Je m’en fiche” slip out while being helped in Fauchon on a recent visit to Paris! Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:26pm

    One of my French coworkers used the f-word fairly often and when I gently explained that he should be careful when and where he used it, he told me that he had spent time in the UK and everyone used it there and it was no big deal. (is that true?)
    I told him that it was quite a strong word in the US and if there were any American clients within earshot, he might cause offense! Not sure he really believed me. Reply

    • October 24, 2013 6:39pm
      David Lebovitz

      A friend ran a fancy hotel and a lot of the young people who started would use words (in English) like “Yeah” or “Ok, cool” to customers. Which he had to explain to them wasn’t really the way you talked to people you weren’t familiar with, especially in that kind of setting. Interesting how languages can be so nuanced! (I’ve picked up some expressions that Romain uses and I keep having to remind myself not to use them when speaking to people.) Reply

  • October 24, 2013 6:48pm

    I saw nothing like this in Nice and Marseille whilst visiting this summer. Heuresement! Reply

  • phanmo
    October 24, 2013 7:02pm

    Ice-T was on Le Grand Journal a few years ago and you can see his jaw drop from shock when the hosts broke out a couple of “motherf***ers”.
    I’ve tried to explain to people the impact that using “f**k” in the wrong situation can have but it’s not easy. I tend to say that it’s like saying “Putain d’enculé de merde” while talking to your grandmother, but instead of your grandmother, it’s everybody. Reply

  • Anna Maria
    October 24, 2013 7:11pm

    As someone who is not a native speaker, but nonetheless fluent in English, I know exactly what you mean. I can certainly confirm that you have to spend years surrounded by a language to really grasp the varying degrees of gravity of various swear words. I experienced this twice, when I learnt English and Danish. I wince when I hear my countrymen use the F-word with abandon and in situations, when something less loaded would suffice.
    By the way, the Polish word for seal is foka, which sounds a lot like an Irish person saying f***er. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 7:14pm

    That is very interesting. It’s fascinating how things get lost in translation like that. Reply

  • Anna Maria
    October 24, 2013 7:18pm

    And another thing – I’m sure the French wouldn’t use that word so freely, if they stopped the idiotic practice of dubbing, and had to listen to the original English. Not dubbing anything is one of the reasons why everybody in Scandinavia speaks English so well, and why they have better understanding of when it’s appropriate to swear. Reply

    • October 24, 2013 7:41pm
      David Lebovitz

      There’s been some (well, little) discussion here that people aren’t learning English well because of the dubbing of television programs. It always seemed odd to me, that a country that valued culture so highly, would modify an original film or presentation. Most films in Paris are presented in their original version, with French subtitles. (But outside of Paris they’re often dubbed as well.) So I don’t know why they don’t apply that to films and series on television as well. Reply

  • alexis
    October 24, 2013 7:33pm

    I lived in Montreal for 20 years ago, while it never appeared in print, you’d hear Francophones say things like “C’est tout f**ke (should be an accent on that last “e” but can’t find it on my english keyboard right now) in the presence of their grandmother or in formal social situations, which always seemed downright bizarre to native English speakers, but it clearly did not have the same shock value it has in English and would be used quite casually.
    Quebecois profanities are mostly religious in nature and I never even tried to use them no matter how proficient my French got. At the time, the worst profanity one could use in Quebecois French was “tabernacle”, which would get changed to more socially acceptable forms such as “tabernoosh” (sort of like “God damn it” becoming “gosh darn it” in English…) Reply

  • John45Y
    October 24, 2013 7:40pm

    This post really hits home. For a long time I’ve spent most of my time in Eastern Europe. Cursing is very rare in Russian — the strongest epithet tends to be “Pancake!” or “Horseradish!” and anything harder tends to be confined to the criminal class and such. So it’s not as bad here an in France, apparently, but still, many of the English-speaking young people will through in an F-word here and there, and it just sounds so… stupid.

    I respectfuly disagree about the 10-year-rule. You should NEVER curse in a language that is not your own. Not only because it’s rude, but because you sound ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous than hearing non-American kids use American hiphop slang.

    (My Russian is very good at this point, but I woudn’t dare curse in the language.) Reply

  • October 24, 2013 7:43pm

    I always use so much cuss words like those, I’m sorry if I offend someone sometimes. I’ve learn english with the television and I remember the 80′ TV series and movies fro the US we had in france, there was so much of those words to replace actual dialogues… what the fig !

    In france, using some cuss words is usually a way to express things colorfully, hence the hilarious video about the numerous uses of the word “puta}n !” :D (warning : if you’re offended by the Fig word that video will offend you).

    I also remember this Matrix sequence (warning : if you’re offended by the Phoque word that video will offend you too but only if you speak french) where the merovingian uses that fantastic garland of french cuss words :D.

    Seems that the immunity of a lot of french people to those words is known enough that the expression “pardon my french but [@$^*#&] !” has appeared. I’ve always thought that was f#ckin’ funny :) Reply

  • Kara
    October 24, 2013 7:45pm

    It seems that English speaking Canadians have a similar disregard for the Quebecois swear words, tabernacles and chalais. Both of these words are religious (catholic), and the meaning is lost in secular translation. Reply

  • Alison
    October 24, 2013 8:24pm

    I find that pizza offensive! Reply

  • Bob Y
    October 24, 2013 8:52pm

    This is a trend that, as usual, probably started here in the US. It seems to be endemic to tech sites and blogs. Its rather like little kids using the word when their parents aren’t around. Call me old-fashioned, but the vulgarization of most everything in our culture, if it can be called that is beyond distressing. An older friend mentioned the other day that he’s glad he’s old because he doesn’t want to see where this culture is heading. Desperate Housewives anyone? Reply

  • Jessica
    October 24, 2013 9:28pm

    I don’t speak french, but I do know a few others. Not using curse words is a good idea. I’m always listening to the nuances of languages. Formal language but not too formal, casual language but not overly casual. It’s not easy. English tv-shows are subtitled ,never dubbed (except childrens programs). It can be quite easy to take this to be representative of the general usage. There’s always a good idea to mind ones language – in the first language one has learned particularly – and then in any additional languages you learn. Reply

  • Jennifer
    October 24, 2013 9:52pm

    This has been really bugging me but before reading your article, I didn’t know how bad it had become. I did send an email to Virgin radio about three years ago just to explain to them that it was really offensive hearing them drop the F word and that they obviously didn’t understand it’s meaning. It’s an art using the F word properly. Even for English speaking people. Reply

  • tunie
    October 24, 2013 9:56pm

    It’s interesting. What is gained by serving the lowest possible denominator in advertising standards? Since only the poorest people respond to such lowbrow tactics, you’d think higher standards would bring in higher sales from people who’ve actually got money. I guess it’s a way to advertise that you are selling useless crap for cheap. Go, commerce. Reply

  • elle
    October 24, 2013 10:08pm

    A certain amount of formality in language directed to the public shows a sign of respect for the presumed dignity of the audience. The keyword is presumed. It’s a practice of generosity to extend dignity, hence value, to the people you wish to reach with your product.

    But if society no longer values personal dignity, and in fact loses all understanding of why that’s even desirable, then we have a very low esteem situation where everyone degrades everyone else and try’s to live life from that very low level. How ridiculous! It’s much better to spread esteem and value to each other and raise the level of standards so that people feel good about themselves.

    Am guessing that abuse of that model with horrible, judgemental behavior in the past generations has made the general public feel like crap, so now instead of being encouraged to raise their standards for their own improved outlook on life, they’d just rather be treated like crap. Pathetic trend… Reply

  • Joan
    October 24, 2013 10:13pm

    I would be worried that a f#%king dinner would be all f#@ked up. Such a very odd way to refer to an event. I took a French pronunciation class years ago and we had a dialogue about seal skin boots and there was lots of giggling as we said phoque over and over in class. Reply

  • Betty
    October 24, 2013 10:32pm

    I personally, am ready for a 12 step program. I have been trying to curtail my bad mouth … and it’s not easy. I will now renew my efforts. Thanks David. Reply

  • Avi
    October 24, 2013 10:46pm

    This post was really funny (maybe f**king funny?).
    The wifi name is still making me laugh.
    I think some cultures are a bit more relaxed about profanity. There was a lot of cussing (palabrotas) in Spain when I lived there. Even old ladies in shops, that’s how they talked to each other.
    For young people, when I was there “de puta madre” was huge. People wore it on hats and in big glittery letters on t-shirts. It was kind of bizarre to me.
    I don’t know what I would do if a man in a suit was dropping f-bombs during a presentation. I applaud you for not falling out of your chair.
    Now if we could only get the message out that calling women “lady” in English sounds rude and oddly offensive… Reply

  • October 24, 2013 11:11pm

    I have to admit, reading this made me want a jaunty hat that said ‘merde’ all over it. Reply

  • October 24, 2013 11:45pm

    This post brings back a funny/uncomfortable memory from when I was living in Paris between 2008-2010. I had an interview for a sales position at American Apparel and the manager who was interviewing me (French guy, accent and all) threw out the f- bomb a good eight to ten times during the interview. I think he was just trying to be ‘cool’ but it was so awkward for me sitting there and made me realize how important it is for not only the interviewee to give off a good impression, but the interviewer as well. Thanks for the walk down memory lane and keep humoring us with these stories! Reply

  • Anna
    October 25, 2013 12:48am

    I have not laughed this hard in a very long time. That is really all I can say! Reply

    • Suzanne
      October 25, 2013 4:59pm

      I agree……very, interesting post, entertaining as well. I’ ve often wondered if/when the fbomb becomes such and everyday word, what word of choice might replace it? I must say that I am surprised the French are usuing it so liberally……certainly makes them look less sophisticated and more brash. That being said, I’ ve had a tremondous chuckle reading this post AND the comments. I bet this post will get the most comments ever. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 12:48am

    sometimes swearing can do me a whole lot of good and i quite like using the occasional expletive for its shock value..i guess people don’t expect well past middle age grey haired women to say f$%k..having said that it’s a bit weird to see it used on a menu.. Reply

  • Jane
    October 25, 2013 2:07am

    I know you’re airing a f#*!king legitimate concern, but thanks for the laugh! Reply

  • Chi
    October 25, 2013 2:21am

    Maybe it should be explained that dropping the f-bomb in English is the equivalent (although not literally) of using “connard” or “connasse” in French. I have never used the word “connard” once without being scolded, because “that is a very strong word that shouldn’t be used”, no matter how deserving the subject. Reply

  • Anna
    October 25, 2013 2:59am

    I had to giggle a little. Cultural misunderstandings that are harmless – for the win! I’m not sure how strict the rules are but I think you can get away with at least one f-bomb and still a PG-13 rating depending on how it’s used. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 4:45am

    Great post! Is it just me or does the French version of E! have nothing but stupid countdown shows (50 hottest… Blah blah)? No “The Soup” no “Chelsea Lately”…or do I just watch at the wrong times?
    As for the f-bombs, I agree with the 10 years rule Reply

  • Joan
    October 25, 2013 5:55am

    Several years back, while teaching at a middle school in NYC, I took a course in conflict resolution given by a former dean from a school in the South Bronx. A lesson focused on how to keep calm when hearing the everyday language used by many of our students, which was often vulgar or at least crude. One of the assignments we were given was to develop a “dictionary” of slang common at the time. One of my students volunteered to write down several terms and their meanings for me. On the list were things like “mad” (a lot of, as in having “mad money”) and “shorty” (girlfriend.) But I laughed aloud when I got to this: “Shut the f$*k up” means (Please be quiet!) Reply

  • latafiolesucree
    October 25, 2013 6:52am

    i agree with a lot of the posters. they don’t realize it’s much stronger than the omnipresnet p’tain or foutu. for every foreign speaker it’s hard to learn which expressions are appropriate to what context.

    as for the graisse le phoque, what’s the origin of that? is it just a play on la graisse du phoque (seal blubber)?

    and, I’m sure romain has taught you the expression, “pédé comme un phoque.”

    i learned that in the renaud hit en cloque.

    “C’est qu’même si j’dev’nais pédé comme un phoque
    Moi, j’serais, jamais en cloque…”

    it’s so sad, how handsome he was in those days and how much alcoholism has ravaged him since. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 7:30am

    Utterly hilarious. Who knew that the French had such an ironic sense of humour? Reply

  • October 25, 2013 8:17am

    WTF? As a Brooklyn girl, and one who was not particularly bien-elevée (lots of cursing in my family), I find the Paris fascination with all things Brooklyn so disorienting. The other day at Monoprix I saw a child’s shirt advertising the “collège and lycée” supposedly established in my Brooklyn neighborhood 100 hundred years ago. (Of course no such place exists.) I think I’ll steer clear of dropping the F-bomb in French conversations for now. I get anxious enough saying merde. Reply

  • Stefanie
    October 25, 2013 12:42pm

    Swearwords are like terms of endearment: They carry an emotional load that is charged during childhood and therefore works best on native speakers. If your mother did not call you “my little cabbage” and was shocked when you first said “&%$§” aloud, you will not be able feel quite the same while saying the words. Many Europeans learn English via TV Series and Rap Songs, both of which abound in swearwords made extra attractive by beeping them out. What follows is that these words are used freely by Europeans with little knowledge of their effect on US citizens.
    By the way, science has found out that swearwords help more against pain if you use them sparingly in your everyday life (see Stephan Fry’s Planet Word series, episode “Uses and Abuses”). Reply

  • SML
    October 25, 2013 2:55pm

    The worst part of this appalling post (the news in it, not the post itself) is the ad for Pizza Hut, which attempts to sell its “pizza” to naive French tourists visiting the newly hip borough that is home to Totonno’s, Roberta’s and Di Fara. Reply

  • Jasmin
    October 25, 2013 3:56pm

    I was shopping in a grocery store in Taipei in 1991, around the time when C&C Music Factory’s song, “everybody dance now” was on heavy rotation I guess pretty much around the world. Pushing my cart through the aisles I heard that same familiar tune, but with karaoke vocals. Imagine my surprise when the singers sang “everybody f**k now.” I must have been the only foreigner there because no one else batted an eyelash, or looked perturbed or offended. Reply

    • October 25, 2013 4:19pm
      David Lebovitz

      I was in a fashionable, but socially aware clothing shop in Paris a few years ago, a nice one, and they had this hard-core rap playing. The lyrics were incredibly sexist (I won’t go into it, but the singer was saying very graphically what he wanted to do to some women.) It was shocking to hear it, especially in a store that was full of clothes from a brand that promoted being culturally aware, etc, and people were just shopping as though nothing was odd or going wrong. I kindly let the salespeople know that the lyrics to the song were pretty offensive. The contrast was so odd. Reply

  • Kristin
    October 25, 2013 4:30pm

    We were in Scotland in 2009, and were amazed at how a group of teenaged girls managed to use f$#k as just about every part of speech in one short conversation. I don’t think I could’ve done it if I’d tried. Reply

  • Jessie
    October 25, 2013 4:41pm

    I lived in the Netherlands for 10 years and was also often dismayed by the inappropriate use of the F-word. Many Dutch people speak English well, but it seems few have learned that some swear words are highly offensive to English speakers. Just like in France, they use the F-word in print, on the radio, etc when speaking English (they also use it in Dutch too, but it’s been incorporated in the language and is not considered a foreign term).
    Maybe swear-word awareness should be included in language classes at school.
    Agree that it’s best never to swear in a foreign language, except perhaps among friends, for comic effect. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 4:42pm

    Will you please write a post about French gadgets in the US that aren’t really French gadgets? That intrigues me! Thanks!

    Love your blog Reply

    • October 25, 2013 4:51pm
      David Lebovitz

      Well, one thing are those “French” butter keepers. I’ve never seen one on a table in France nor in a store – even though a number of them are made by French companies. When I asked the representative about why they’re not available in France, he said, “We make those for the American market.” Reply

  • Heather
    October 25, 2013 4:48pm

    Ah, bad habits are so much easier to inculcate than good ones. Evidently, if there ways in which we over here are vulgar grammar-barbarians, devoid of adequate adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, the French want it too. Besides, I do hate to see the shock value of that word get diluted, because if I ever use it in public, I want those around me to be aware that some really serious s**t is about to hit the f**king fan. Now they will probably just shrug and turn away as the (bus/train/heat-seeking missile) hurtles toward us… Reply

  • Sandtruck
    October 25, 2013 4:52pm

    I hope you never get over thinking that the word is offensive. Reply

  • Alan
    October 25, 2013 5:02pm

    Curses are the first thing one sets out to learn in a foreign language, the very Lesson Zero of any study course. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 5:07pm

    I think part of it is probably the proximity to England – in my experience (mostly among students, to be fair), the F-word is used much more frequently, casually, and publicly there than in the United States. I think it is becoming more integrated into the language of young people in the US too, perhaps thanks to those same English influences. But it’s still more of an age-divided word in the US, unless you are using it purposefully and appropriately. Certainly not one you would use in a professional setting with mixed ages present! Reply

  • Linda
    October 25, 2013 5:10pm

    This F-word phenomenon reminds of my years in Japan. There, the F-word is a very popular motif for t-shirts, caps, bags, almost anything with writing on it. Let’s hope the fad passes more quickly in France than it has done in Japan. Reply

  • Rena
    October 25, 2013 5:26pm

    I guess the F-word phenomenon is La Thing…just returned from Spain (enjoyed your post on Andalusia since I was just there). When we travelled to Northern Spain, a cafe window in San Sebastian posted the following, “[email protected]@k Calm and Party in Homeless,” a riff on the every present Keep Calm and Carry On. (I think it was an advertisement for a nightclub!) Love your blog! Reply

  • Chandler In Las Vegas
    October 25, 2013 5:36pm

    The etymology of French epithets is one where the root words are ignored for the idiomatic expression which is culturally understood. While L’efbomb is perfectly understood as not meaning what it means in English, the contra-positive of this argument may be seen in the French use of the word ‘con’. C’est foutu. Reply

  • suedoise
    October 25, 2013 5:41pm

    My own daft compatriots meaning young Swedes consider exclaiming “sh*t” and
    “f#%k” at all times a sophisticated kind of language chic.
    The fondness for those words is even more true for the French who for generations were kept isolated from learning English by their politicians. Heaven is opening up at long last.
    Be assured that everyone using f-words all over Europe knows there is something naughty about them. Means being able to face the world deliciously unafraid. Reply

  • latafiolesucree
    October 25, 2013 6:04pm

    maybe we’re interpreting all this in the wrong way, saying that the french and other non-native speakers should ease up on the f-bomb.

    maybe the answer is just the reverse.

    mayber native english speakers need to become less uptight about the f-word and other mots grossiers. it sort of goes together with anglo-saxon prudishness about sex.

    when george bernard shaw wrote pygmalion, using “bloody” in polite conversation was so recently scandalous that he could build a whole comic scene around it. english speakers used to have to use every conceivable euphemism and periphrasis to avoid saying the word “hell.” language changes.

    personally, i prefer “le langage de charretier.” it’s richer, more expressive, and more natural. Reply

    • October 25, 2013 6:10pm
      David Lebovitz

      What’s funny is that while there is a perceived prudishness about sex in anglo countries, my French partner is constantly shocked at how graphic the sex (and nudity) is on American cable television shows. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 6:05pm

    Such a funny post David! I agree with you about keeping it classy but the ladies at Dinner Was Delicious swear so perfectly that it’s charming. I’d be upset if they wrote a cookbook that didn’t include their perfectly timed swear words. Reply

  • Judy
    October 25, 2013 6:07pm

    When I saw the tin at the top of the blog I tried to read it in what little French is left from one year 65 years ago! When I came to the word Dubbin, my it took me back to even further remembering my Dad, RIP, polishing our shoes with Dubbin.
    I hate hearing the F word on live TV. So unnecessary and films nowadays? What to say. It was a frequent word of mine but now I do try to curb it but it still offends me in films and on TV used to titillate the audience.
    When I was 19 I worked for solicitors. My boss had to dictate a statement with the F word running through it. He asked how old I was and decided I was old enough. The word was used once and then just F. I was so embarrassed.
    The expression ‘your mum’s whatnot’ is used very frequently in Israel but in arabic.
    I too wish other countries would not incorporate it into daily language. Modt kids here use ‘s–t’.
    I’ll ferme my bouche now. Reply

  • Judy Brown
    October 25, 2013 6:23pm

    So interesting! For me, an American, the F-word is indeed fairly off-limits. During times of extreme emotional distress, and I do mean extreme…and infrequent…I find the word coming out of my mouth as a way of expressing a feeling of complete and utter outrage. If the F-word were not taboo, how would I be able to express my feelings so satisfactorily? It’s very useful. Reply

  • Janet
    October 25, 2013 6:36pm

    I realized how normalized the word had become in mainstream North America when I kept seeing it in The New Yorker magazine. It’s not used gratuitously, always in context, but it still surprises me. I think I picked up over half a dozen instances of it in one issue. Reply

  • latafiolesucree
    October 25, 2013 6:40pm

    yes, david, that’s the tragic schizoid hypocrisy of the american psyche–all church lady on the outside, and debbie does dallas on the inside. that’s why i think easing up on the prudishness around the f-word would be good. and i think that’s exactly what’s actually going on, with its relatively new omnipresence in popular speech.

    btw, the site i linked to earlier is a wonderful resource for enriching one’s french. you can subscribe to it and it will send you a new expression/idiom each day. you can also search and study their data base. take notes, keep a list, and try to work the idioms into your conversation. it’s a fun exercise to manipulate a conversation to the place where you can insert one of your new expressions. i assure you, you will amuse your french friends when you gain a command of these sayings which are normally reserved for the native speakers. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 6:51pm

    After a 20 year absence I went to visit friends in the Colorado high country. I was told things have changed, so don’t be shocked. The worst change was exiting I70 in beautiful Eagle, Colorado…only to be slapped in the face (before I even could turn) with “Burger King”. It made me sick. Reply

  • Pam
    October 25, 2013 6:54pm

    Adorable post. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 6:59pm

    This entire post was the highlight of my whole f**king day :) Reply

  • Lis
    October 25, 2013 7:11pm

    Thank you David! I laughed out loud at this. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and oddly enough, I am generally quite offended by vulgar language, unless I’m actually in Brooklyn. In which case it doesn’t bother me a bit. Reply

  • Julie
    October 25, 2013 7:34pm

    Great post – reminded me of being a student in Germany. The German guys would play darts while drinking beer in our shared kitchen in the dorm. On the first bad throw, the expletive was in German – and they do have some creative terms. The second bad throw elicited something in French. The third was always in English, as if it was the most expressive form of swearing. Many of my colleagues claimed limited knowledge of English, but they could all swear with amazing fluency. Reply

  • Lloyd Le Blanc
    October 25, 2013 8:06pm


    Being a French Canadian who has lived in Ontario for most of my life I can see both sides.
    However it has always stuck me as odd that one language would appropriate words from another and try to give a different meaning.Profane or not. When the word phoque is used in French it means only a seal! The word f**k and f**key is used by some French speakers however it does not have the same strong sense as in English and is used more as a casual term denoting a mess.
    Below is the original version of a beautiful love song as song by Felix Leclerc and a more contemporary one by Michel Rivard.
    Enjoy !

    Lloyd Le Blanc

    Félix Leclerc -La complainte du phoque en Alaska

    Michel Rivard Reply

  • October 25, 2013 8:26pm

    Great article–I wasn’t aware of the phenomenon, which didn’t seem to be in evidence when I was last in Paris in 2011 and seems utterly ridiculous. Unlike some of your readers, I think it’s fine to swear in a foreign language–IF you’ve learned how to do so from a native speaker. Obviously the French are taking “f%$k” in a completely non-Anglo-Saxon direction, and that’s a problem.

    Having grown up in Japan, I can comment that the Japanese use of “f#%k” is not spoken but written–it’s just another cool English word to put on signs and T-shirts. Interesting, the Japanese language is stunningly devoid of curse words: about the worst you can say to someone is “bakayaro,” which translates as “you’re a moron,” but with much greater insult than the English implies. Refreshingly, the worst thing you can say to a women is “you’re a nun,” which really isn’t that bad. Reply

    • October 25, 2013 9:45pm
      David Lebovitz

      There are two expressions in French – “Ta gueule!” and “Tais-toi!” – which both basically mean “Shut up!” but the first is much (much) more loaded, similar to the difference between “F$%k off!” and “Bug off!”

      I’ll often tell people that think English isn’t nuanced, like other languages, to compare the different between “Don’t be stupid” and “Don’t be silly”, which are decidedly two different things. Reply

  • October 25, 2013 8:30pm

    French butter keepers aren’t French?? Mon Dieu. Reply

  • Thea
    October 25, 2013 8:30pm

    You have my heart, David, for speaking up in the fashionable French clothing store. I’m sure you were f**king discreet too. Thank you. Reply

  • Linda L.
    October 25, 2013 8:50pm

    Seeing “phoque” reminded me of this video. A musician is applying for a government grant to do an exchange between a Canadian and a French music festival.

    For me, the context matters when a swear word is used. I find gratuitous swearing in films, programs and ads as annoying/offensive as gratuitous sex.

    @ tunie: I’m not sure why you think this advertising is aimed at the poor. I’ve heard similar language coming out of some very well-heeled mouths! See David’s example of the man in the suit sprinkling his presentation with the f-word. Reply

  • Scooby Doo
    October 25, 2013 9:10pm

    Oh for f*cks sake. France, just be yourself. We like you just they way you are. Reply

    October 25, 2013 9:29pm

    David, I have to agree with you. Seeing the F word in print in what seem to be totally inappropriate and unnecessary ways is offsetting. On a menu? Oh well, hopefully just an odd fad that will pass. Said word does need to be reserved for when you drop something on your foot or your cake falls. (Which, BTW,I have never had happen…do cakes really fall? Reply

  • MR in NJ
    October 25, 2013 9:34pm

    I live in NJ but (or “and therefore”) have never watched Housewives. Plenty of people do, however, and speak of it.

    The other day someone mentioned the show while mumbling and looking down, and I thought he had said “Real Houseflies of New Jersey.” Great reality show idea! Presumed similarity: endless grooming. Reply

  • Jennifer SoCal
    October 25, 2013 10:14pm

    Hi David, I’ve lived in Southern California my whole thirty-something life:) and can say that I personally only resort to the F bomb when driving alone or very very angry. If my mother caught it, she would probably give me the face…you know the face I’m talking about. :D Reply

  • tim
    October 25, 2013 10:38pm

    When living in Koln someone had fallen off their bike and screamed in english oh f$$k me. It was done in such bad context we all were laughing going down the street.
    There were some words in german for move out of the way as a waiter. Some were nice and some were basically saying move your ass or you will be hit.

    After learning german in highschool and living there for 10 months, I have never learned a german curse word. Reply

  • naomi
    October 25, 2013 11:01pm

    Many decades ago, I almost got beat up over that word. I was in an argument with a classmate (I did say decades), and he used that word. I made a retort about the paucity of his vocabulary. Once he found out the definition of paucity he lunged for me; fortunately, others caught him and I got away. Reply

  • Gavrielle
    October 25, 2013 11:47pm

    Not unprecedented – the Germans love to say “sh*t” rather than their own word,for example – but wow. Pins your ears back, as my grandmother would have said.

    @Bob Y: not every trend starts in the US. I find it really jolting hearing Americans now saying “no worries”, a phrase which has always been closely associated with Australia. And “the yeah, no phenomenon” also referred to above? That started in Australia and New Zealand too. Reply

  • Judy
    October 25, 2013 11:53pm

    @Tim. You never heard the word ‘scheiss’?

    @Linda L.
    Thank you. I also wanted to say something about that racist comment. Poor people are no better and no worse than rich people. Reply

  • Linda H
    October 26, 2013 2:48am

    SNAFU–An American phrase from WWII shows that the word does go back in time quite a while, and I owe the more colorful pieces of my vocabulary to my WWII sailor father. However, I’m still sort of dismayed by the constant use of the f-word. It’s so uninventive. Reply

  • Rose
    October 26, 2013 6:55am

    I have to admit I swear like a sailor and don’t mind profanity, but was a little shocked when I was in Grenoble in January during les soldes. A clothes store decked out its window with naked mannequins and signs that said ‘f**king soldes’.

    I think I was most confused because it didn’t even make sense. Reply

    • October 26, 2013 11:13am
      David Lebovitz

      I would be confused as well. Hope you took a picture! Reply

  • jvl
    October 26, 2013 7:49am

    Interesting post, and I agree with several of the observations. But equally interesting are the comments. They reveal that the cultural divide between Europe and America is alive and well (and currently living off the coast of France). To be a bit more blunt: We gradually lost the prudish puritanism in the 50s and 60s, that seems to permeate American society even today.
    One current example is how American internet giants, like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, attracts increasing criticism (and political calls for regulation) because of the way they impose un-European moral values on European users’ activities.
    And yes, @Loulou in France, it includes Britain as well. I have noticed that American guests on British television often becomes quite flummoxed because of the more liberal use of the language. Off course, some American guests revels in this newfound freedom, uses foul language to excess and end up looking quite immature.
    @ Anna Maria: It is a contributing factor that Scandinavian television don’t use dubbing. It has not, however, stopped Scandinavian youngsters from using the f-word frequently. The need to speak foreign languages, at least in Denmark, is many centuries old, a result of the country being a major seafaring nation. But I think that the linguistic skills of Scandinavians today are mostly a result of teaching methods that has a far greater emphasis on the practical usage than technicalities like grammar and spelling.
    But back to the Transatlantic difference in linguistic values. Quite a few of the commentators seem to think that they should educate the French on how to use English. It is not unlike the memsahibs of the British Raj: English ladies who saw it as their moral duties to teach the ignorant locals proper, civilized behavior. But 1/ the language you speak as an American is not yours, it is appropriated from the English (do you pay royalties to Britain every time you speak or write? Morally you should, you know!) and 2/ a huge part of English is derived from French. It would thus be more logical if the French felt a moral calling to educate the English and American peoples who combined have spend quite a few centuries to mangle their beautiful language. But I suspect that the French don’t care. With more than two thousand years of French cultural history, the misuses of a few English words are of significant unimportance. Reply

  • Eddy
    October 26, 2013 11:12am

    @ David: The poster for the “F….. dinner” on “le 14 aout” was of an event taking place in Montreal. Fortunately I don’t think the trend has spread to Quebec. I’m hoping we’re just too multi-lingual to really see the word “f**k” as exotic. Reply

  • Melissa
    October 26, 2013 12:41pm

    I am shocked to see that printed material. You would never see that in the US. As I read the comments here, I think it’s evident that Americans know how inappropriate it is, since everyone wrote symbols rather than the word [email protected]€k ! Reply

  • October 26, 2013 6:06pm


    Haha, ugh, I’ve seen this in Spain too. I love hearing really dirty (uncensored) songs on the radio when I’m at a family place like the supermarket.

    I’m really curious whether France is experiencing the same “Americanization” as Spain, and how you feel about it. In Spain, it seems like there’s a new trend of American food stores, but all they sell are bottled salad dressings and candy – in other words, crap. Nothing of any value (nutritional or otherwise) is sold there, and yet I see new ones popping up all the time, and more and more Spaniards who want to eat things like Chef Boyardee canned raviolis and that peanut butter that comes with jam in the same jar. Not to mention the constant obsession with fondant-covered cakes (and the poorly-made cupcake craze is still going strong). Seriously? Has this happened in France? How do you feel about it? I’m so torn between loving being able to have Reese’s Pieces whenever I want, but legitimately worried about the future of Spanish cuisine. Reply

    • October 26, 2013 6:40pm
      David Lebovitz

      We have that too in France and the “American” aisle in the supermarkets are always full of things like Strawberry Fluff (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in America), boxed cheesecake mix (ditto), and the usual line-up of bottled salad dressings, cranberry sauce, cookies, etc.. Which I think continues to reinforce the belief that the food in America is bad; because that’s all people see of it.

      And it’s hard to blame them, although I know people who live in Europe, who come to the US to visit or to live and are blown-away by the food and the farmers markets. It’s just that 1) Those things travel well (obviously you’re not going to get luscious summer peaches and tomatoes from California, and corn on the cob from New Jersey), and 2) Those are things folks sometimes crave.

      We have plenty of cupcake places in Paris as well. I don’t know how I feel about it. I think time will tell – and weeds things out. Fads come and go and you can’t open a bakery or chocolate shop in Paris unless you stock macarons, which were/are popular in the states as well. I’ve had good cupcakes in France (and some not-good ones) and good croissants in America. But in general, I think things taste better when you’re eating them in the country of origin. I don’t know why. But they just least to me.

  • Tags
    October 26, 2013 6:18pm

    Probably wasei-eigo, which is what Japanglish redirects you to on Wikipedia.

    They obviously didn’t get it from Cassell’s French Dictionary, which has no entry for f— or f—ing. Reply

  • witloof
    October 26, 2013 7:24pm

    I feel compelled to share this:

    Thank you for this post, and please allow me now to vent: I have greatly admired the food writing of Michael Ruhlman for years, finding it elegant, compelling, and energetic. However, he drops the Fbomb on his blog on a regular basis, which makes me not want to read it. Reply

    • Janey
      October 27, 2013 11:22am

      I agree — I tried to read his blog and finally gave up…. Reply

  • October 26, 2013 7:54pm

    Haha! I love your column, David. I wrote a post on this too. It annoys me a lot. Foreigners just think they’re being cool using it around any audience and don’t get the situations right. Reply

    • October 28, 2013 8:59am
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t realize the Germans did it as well. I think you’re right that people think they are cool (like that well-dressed man swearing his head off), but it’s odd when you hear the word either being taken out of context, or used indiscriminately. I’m really surprised to see it used to publicize events or in store windows. Reply

  • Curmudgeon
    October 26, 2013 8:52pm

    To be honest I find that Pizza Hut in France much more shocking. The French seem much more willing to accept American fast food than for instance the Italians. When there were 1200 McDonalds in France there were only 200 in Italy. That was the last year that McDonalds gave out figures. My Italian friends love McDonalds for their free toilets. Reply

  • Holly T
    October 26, 2013 9:40pm

    A few months ago while flipping through Le Figaro, I ran across an article titled “Bienvenue dans le F**king Four !”. I almost choked! And it was a parenting article (apparently, it’s used like the Terrible Twos)! I tried explaining how serious the f-bomb is to some (French) friends, but they just shrugged it off, it’s just “so cool”. I did giggle though when my friend returned from a trip to NYC saying, “Hey, what is the f**k?” What indeed. Reply

  • October 26, 2013 10:12pm

    I agree, this is quite shocking. If you replace the word by the French literal translation, you will see some pretty shocked faces…
    On another subject, my son and I were sad to see that they don’t have candy corn at the MK2 bibliotheque store, just before Halloween. No idea where I can get some? Reply

  • Tom L
    October 27, 2013 4:21am

    Macarons have now appeared at Costco here in the states, so they must have hit their peak. As to the F bomb, I believe JVI hit it on the head by mentioning that puritanism is still alive and well in the USA. Going on 300 years now. But I personally do not wish to be affronted by it in print and over the airwaves. Reply

  • Ellie
    October 27, 2013 12:26pm

    Seeing something like the f-bomb appear in another culture is like holding up a mirror on our culture. To think that is what is catching on (and McDonalds) in France is sad and embarrassing to me as an American. Reply

    • October 28, 2013 9:03am
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know. I’ve not seen the F-word used in advertising for radio stations or painted on store windows as part of a logo. McDonald’s has been readily accepted in France for quite some time and while it’s true that it’s an American-based business, the outlets are always full of locals. I went into one last summer when I was traveling to use the Wifi, and was stunned to find how clean the restrooms were. It would indeed be great if there were some French businesses that did the same, offering an alternative with better food options (like the American chains In ‘n Out Burger and Chipotle.) Reply

  • October 27, 2013 2:45pm

    Good post, David. And it seems like there’s some sort of a backlash brewing when it comes to both Brooklyn and casual use of the F word (I always remember the withering observation of my Bostonian grandmother when I swore in front of her as an adolescent: “The use of curse words indicates a terrible poverty of the imagination, Alec. So do avoid it.”): Reply

    • October 28, 2013 9:06am
      David Lebovitz

      I have no idea where this fascination with Brooklyn came in, but it seems like locals have taken the “idea” of it (and hipsters) but did some cherry-picking and took just the fashion, brick walls, retro eyewear, beards, etc. A well-placed zinger can certainly be useful if used correctly, but I agree with your grandmother, who I hope washed your mouth out with soap when she heard you and your potty-mouth. Reply

  • October 27, 2013 2:47pm


    Are you in France? Have you ever tried ordering from My American Market? It’s located in France and I’ve had good experiences with them…

    Here’s the link to the candy corn: Reply

  • Kathy
    October 27, 2013 3:55pm

    The f word is certainly a swear word in the US but not one I would use within earshot of anyone I know(and I keep trying to break myself of the habit of even saying it to myself ). I guess the French picked it up from our songs and movies and thought it was acceptable to use all the time? I guess if you watch American movies and listen to our music, that’s the message you would get. Ouch. Reply

  • DavidWL
    October 27, 2013 4:12pm

    I think I’m going to steal the word “phoque” and spread it ALL over the USA. Reply

  • Judy
    October 27, 2013 4:12pm

    I watched a film yesterday and every second word was the F word. So unnecessary. Are there no other words to show how they’re feeling. I mean ‘sit the F down’ and it wasn’t meant in a nasty way. Reply

  • Curmudgeon
    October 27, 2013 4:24pm

    It’s time to get a grip. There are Vietnamese noodle places all around the country with names like Pho Que, Pho King, and a place called Pho Que Now. I think if the F bomb bothers you, you have a dirty mind. You are taking it literally. Do you envision a bolt of lightening when someone says Damn! or people dancing naked in flames when someone say Hell! Reply

  • October 28, 2013 12:14am

    I’m as shocked as you are so I don’t know why I couldn’t stop laughing reading through the post! What the F%$# is up with these Frenchies? Reply

  • Gilda
    October 28, 2013 1:14am

    You are so right! Reply

  • Daniella
    October 28, 2013 1:48am

    I wonder could we be related? My mothers maiden name was Lebovitz. Reply

  • Jezebel
    October 28, 2013 2:01am

    I was working in France during the DSK debacle. In one of several resulting discussions about the sexual harassment, a (French) friend referred to me as a “slut.” It took me a moment to realize that she didn’t understand that this was offensive, because her entire context for when and how and among whom “slut” is used was Sex and the City. I then had to explain that the series’s dialogue was not representative of how American women generally spoke to each other. Similarly, could the prevalence of “f**k” now be the spawn of some particular popular HBO series? Reply

  • jackie
    October 28, 2013 6:57am

    I agree with you…,but I did laugh my way through this post…. Reply

  • Hélène
    October 28, 2013 12:17pm

    I’m myself french, but living in Brussels, and had not realized my compatriots at home had started to use the F-word so freely in ads. Although I might not blame the dubbed movies for it, but rather the fact that a great majority of the young generation is now learning english through MTV programs and streamed series (which is totally fine by me – we only has the BBC radio program my old english teacher would play us on a tape recorder – and I’m not even that old!). Hence, they might not realize not everybody is speaking like Snooki from Jersey Shore, or McNulty from the Wire: it’s similar to people learning Japanese through mangas and realizing when arriving in Tokyo that they don’t know how to communicate in a non-familiar way.
    And on a last remark, it’s true that if you want a good laugh in Paris you can always scroll down the list of available wifis: as I noticed when visiting my friends lately, you’ll always have a nice “paspourtoiconnard_78” or “merdeàceluiquilira_234”.
    Thanks for the very entertaining post! Reply

  • Tamsin
    October 28, 2013 1:21pm

    When I lived in Italy (about 5 years ago) my flatmate’s boyfriend used to wear a belt that said ‘F***ing Criminal’. He was a very fashionable guy and always looked great but it was so weird when he was dressed smartly for work with that belt! Reply

  • Jenna
    October 28, 2013 3:59pm

    I guess the French see us swearing in films and tv and think all Americans talk like that? Many of the British films I see show people swearing constantly but that must not be the case either? We’re all vulnerable to the media…. Reply

  • Joanna
    October 28, 2013 4:59pm

    I think this is hysterical. Hopefully it’s a trend that will go away. Although, I went to Dublin 3 years ago and the f-bomb was quite freely given away. I remember being shocked. But at least my eyes weren’t assaulted by advertisements! Reply

  • seanachie
    October 29, 2013 11:05am

    Americans are a little more uptight about swear words but blaming their reaction to the French misusing ‘f#king’ (I won’t be so coy as to use asterisks) on American puritanism isn’t good enough. I’m Irish, and though we probably swear a lot more than Americans do, we know when not to, and using it in printed promotional material is absolutely out of the question.

    The French preponderance for swearing à la anglaise just comes across as unwieldy and unclassy. Swearing in English takes an immense amount of skill and understanding of the language, which few French people – even those who can speak English fluently – possess. They would be best advised to leave it out altogether. This occasionally foul-mouthed Irishman doesn’t find the French using ‘f&$k’ offensive, just incredibly annoying. Reply

  • Judy
    October 29, 2013 11:30am

    Everybody is saying that the Americans don’t swear very much. How come their films are full of swearing. Not just the F word but the other most disgusting word. Reply

    • Seanachie
      October 29, 2013 1:13pm

      I’m not that sure American films are full of swear words, though they may be noticeable in some films more than others. I think if you did a careful survey of US films, you I presume the ‘other word’ you refer to is the ‘c’ word, which is very rarely heard in American films, mainly because Americans, unlike other English speakers, don’t use it much.

      In any case, it may be true that younger French people pick up swear words from certain Hollywood films (and rap music too) and thus have little conception of how inappropriate it is to use them indiscriminately. Reply

  • Judy
    October 29, 2013 1:28pm

    I saw a film the other day, a very violent film, that used the F word almost every second word where it wasn’t needed. Quite honestly most of the British films that I like are slow ones or based on films
    I also watch NCIS which manages not to swear. Haiwai 50 ditto. So why?
    Yes it was the c word. Reply

    • seanachie
      October 29, 2013 1:38pm

      That’s my point. It was a violent film, aimed at an adult, probably male audience, hence more swearing. As for British films, there is *way* more swearing in them than in American films. Maybe not in the likes of Downton Abbey or Merchant Ivory films but try watching Sexy Beast, Trainspotting or any Ken Loach film and you will notice the difference straight away. It reflects the fact that the British generally swear a lot more than Americans do (or it is at least more general throughout society). Reply

  • Judy
    October 29, 2013 2:19pm

    I don’t watch those sort of films anymore. Downton Abbey and Merchant Ivory are much more my thing since I got to my great age. My favourite TV shows, to be honest, are Monk, Haiwai, Alias and NCIS. You see how highbrow I am. I’ve been away from my England for so long that I don’t know the swearing habits of the British. Reply

  • October 29, 2013 6:14pm

    Bit like the British and the c-word. Still sweary but not NEARLY the status of “Worst thing you can say to or around a woman, EVER” that it carries in the US. Reply

    • seanachie
      October 29, 2013 6:29pm

      It’s hardly analagous though – the British (and Irish and Australians and Kiwis) all know how offensive it is, both to Americans and non-Americans. Besides, the word has been around since Chaucer’s time, so it’s not like it’s an American invention. The French use English-language swear words without *any* concept at all of how offensive they are. Reply

      • Judy
        October 29, 2013 8:31pm

        Seems the Anglo’s are quite disgusting. Reply

        • Seanachie
          October 29, 2013 8:45pm

          To paraphrase Walt Whitman, they are large, they contain multitudes. Reply

          • Judy
            October 29, 2013 9:32pm

            He’s an American. Americans aren’t really Anglos.
            That’s the British, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand etc.

    • Judy
      October 29, 2013 8:29pm

      Do the British really use the c word a lot? It’s a word I’ve never used in all my 69 years. Reply

  • Dahan
    October 30, 2013 12:50pm

    I have noticed the same trend in Egypt. Generally speaking, in the media/public contexts (as opposed to say, walking in the street) swearing in Arabic is believed to be shameful and heavily frowned upon (especially around women). Authorities censor profanity in Arabic by law and slander and libels suits are thrown around Cairo on a daily basis. But in English, well that’s a different story, for some reason people can enjoy ‘f$%k’ and the whole pool of English profanities casually, and its to a greater extent socially accepted. Quite ironic if you ask me. Reply

  • November 1, 2013 8:28am

    This is so shocking it’s funny. What happened to France’s ban on English words to protect and preserve their language? Maybe the government should come up with a Frenchified word to replace this f***ing one… any good suggestions? Reply

    • seanachie
      November 1, 2013 9:16am

      There is no such ban. The Académie française simply drafts alternatives to words borrowed from foreign languages, and recommends they be used. The recommendation is not legally binding however. The only legal obligation is that when a foreign language (not just English) is used in an ad, it must be translated into French by way of a subtitle or an asterisk. Though the law probably does cover restaurant livery and menus, few people would bother with it unless it were a big chain. Reply

  • Jen
    November 1, 2013 2:42pm

    This is one of the funniest things I’ve read in weeks! Reply

  • Michelle
    November 1, 2013 6:18pm

    I wonder when the French will sensationalize the word ‘biches’ which I saw as a description card on a female deer at a natural history museum in Southern France…I can just see it now ‘f$&king biches’ dinner event! Reply

  • November 2, 2013 11:52pm

    I’m English and will happily admit to swearing a lot. They’re just words (to me). Having lived and worked in a few countries, picking up swearing is a useful barometer of a culture. I can now swear in Chinese, French, Dutch, Arabic, German and more. What I like is the differences in offense different words for largely the same thing have.

    In Dutch, for example, the equivalent of the “C” word is incredibly cheap. Or at least where I worked.

    As for French: Serge Gainsbourg. That is all. Reply

  • Katie
    November 2, 2013 11:54pm

    I think here is SF we should start hosting “PUTAIN! Dinners”. Reply

    • Judy
      November 2, 2013 11:57pm

      Putain for putan! ;-) Reply

  • Judy
    November 3, 2013 12:47am

    OMG. I’m watching a light British film where the F word had been gratuitously thrown around and the, all of a sudden, the C word turned up. I actually gasped Reply

  • Joan
    November 4, 2013 8:11am

    If you speak like that all the time, what do you have left to say when you really need vulgarity? I don’t speak that way – I think it shows a poverty of imagination to limit your vocabulary to just a few words, the liberally sprinkled-around f-bomb.

    I certainly know how; I grew up in a house full of brothers, and a Navy fighter pilot father, and then spent more than 20 years working in an Emergency Room. There’s not much I haven’t heard. I save those words for really heavy-duty distress, and so they have real power (for me, if not for the people around me.

    And even then, depending on circumstances, they might be subvocals. I know when and where, and also when and where NOT to use such language.

    Savvy309 Reply

  • Judy
    November 4, 2013 1:48pm

    I think most of us know where and when not to use vulgarity just some people aren’t bothered. Reply

  • RobNYNY1957
    November 4, 2013 8:58pm

    I just watched a German game show (Die Pyramide, based on the US game show $64,000 Pyramid). One of the contestants said “sh*t” (in German) twice and “f#%k” (in English) once. The moderator, when describing hand gestures, said that he would not flip the bird (in German: “den Stinkfinger zeigen”). The conditions of civil discourse are quite different in Europe. Reply

  • RobNYNY1957
    November 4, 2013 9:03pm

    If I recall correctly, in the original play “The Marriage of Figaro” from the 18th Century there is a whole scene about saying “goddamn.” Shaw’s “Saint Joan” has French characters using “goddamns” as a synonym for “British.” Reply

  • RobNYNY1957
    November 4, 2013 9:07pm

    One the other hand, I know elderly Jewish women who would be shocked to hear “schmuck” or “putz” used in conversation. But they have entered American mainstream English, at least in New York. Reply

  • Michael
    November 5, 2013 10:53am

    Actually I’m more shocked at the shoe cream made from seal fat, a thing which i thought belongs to the past, like the 19th century. Those animals are protected, and if they are not they aught to be… Reply

  • Lyn
    November 5, 2013 5:11pm

    Thank you. This is awesome. I’ve been thinking this since I got here two years ago and had the same reaction to the Omnivore dinners. I feel like there’s a missing adjective. Like, at the very least it should be F&#%ng AMAZING Dinners… That would at least make sense. And I say this as a huge fan of Colin Nissan’s decorative gourds ( Everything has its time and place. Reply

  • Judy
    November 5, 2013 7:10pm

    Lots of yiddishisms are being taken by all sorts of people. In England a lot is/was used by taxi drivers as most of the drivers, years ago, were Jewish. Reply

  • Irene
    November 5, 2013 9:52pm

    I think when you say “Americanisms” it’s a little bit of a misnomer because it implies that it’s actually prevalent in the culture here… Aside from rap/hip-hop, I really don’t see or hear swear words very often, especially not in print or advertisement… I live in LA and travel to SF, NY and Chicago often. I think it’s more the French taking an aspect of American language and having some fun with it since swear words in other languages just don’t carry the same weight as swear words in your own language. It’s just jarring to you (and to any English speaker, probably) because you actually feel the weight of the word. My other language is Russian and when I hear Americans saying Russian curse words, it’s extremely jarring to my ear and very shocking, but just a bit of fun to them. Reply

  • cath
    November 6, 2013 8:16am

    I think B#&%ch is next! Reply

  • Cynthia
    November 6, 2013 10:45pm

    A little late in the conversation, but the day after you posted this topic I was in a cave in Bergerac waiting for my husband to choose a cognac. Nonchalantly I gazed down at the crate of wine at my feet. It held bottles of a Jurancon red labeled “You F–k My Wine”. I kid you not! Reply

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