So apparently, the word ‘Frak’ is fast becoming everyone’s favourite swearword. The ingenuity of the word Frak lies in its phonetic similarity to its grosser cousin. It wouldn’t work half as well as the other word if it didn’t sound so completely like it. And yet it isn’t that other word… a fact that has allowed it to slip deftly through the usual censorship nets.
Packing a punch
As far as ‘tetragrammatons’ go, Frak fits the bill perfectly: it’s short, terse and monosyllabic. That’s what really counts. In the heat of genuine frustration, expletives that are cumbersome and drawn out will simply not do. Imagine if you made a mistake while trying to pronounce your chosen bad word. I mean, wouldn’t that just p*** you off even more? Of course it would. That there is an ever-decreasing circle of escalating anguish. A good bad word should pose no linguistic challenges. Frak is also more fun than the infamous F-word. It gives you an extra ‘r’ that you can roll if you are so inclined.
In a relationship reminiscent of memes piggybacking off of genes, Frak takes a ride on the F*** infrastructure in a way that allows it to stick a royal finger up at all the other F-word pretenders. Take ‘frag’ for instance. Were it not for that ‘g’, that extra little bit of phonetic effort, it could easily have been the ‘it’ F-word. Even healthier rivals like ‘Freak’ (superceded by ‘Frick’) only got decent mileage in the present-continuous form (this is freaking nuts, it’s fricking crazy). Starting with a collection of sticky artefacts (who can ask for a better vector than the new Battlestar Galactica series itself), Frak has been rather successful at replicating itself.
A timely shift
Frak’s arrival is also timely, for the following reasons: Swearing on planet earth has passed through roughly two phases: a religious (or perhaps I should say sacrilegious) phase, where something like ‘God Damn’ was profane enough, and anything that even mentioned the Virgin Mary, the crucifixion or the body of Christ was extremely shocking. As secularism’s grip on society increased, this religious sensibility gave way to an (un)healthy fascination with body parts and bodily functions:
Words like Mother****, F***, C***, A** have almost completely overtaken to the landscape of profanities. To the point where I can stand up and say ‘Jaysus Mary and Joseph’ in the worst Irish brogue ever and I would get giggles, not gasps of horror.
And now, at the tail end of this transition, we have this new word which means…. nothing. Nothing! I’m sure there are those who would beg to differ, but the ‘meaning’ is entirely retrofitted, like a pointer to some other location in memory.
See, I think of it as a pointer, but my other half thinks of it more as a reference. As in, if that other location in memory is destroyed, so too is this. They are (effectively) one and the same thing so using it is bad, because it is a reference to a bad thing. But I say it can just as easily point to anything (it can mean anything – so it isn’t intrinsically bad)…
Where was I? Oh yeah…
So last but not least, frak is a strangely abstract swearword. Perhaps it signals that (since) nothing is sacred anymore, there’s no point looking for an object of our collective awe/disgust as a basis for venting a blue streak.
Perhaps we’re coming to understand that the state of vexation is just its own thing…
Btw, for a laugh, you should look at this list of 4-letter words.