As a fan of profane language judiciously employed, I fear that the best profanities of English are cheapening from overuse -- or worse, that our impulses to offend through profane language are beginning to shift away from harmless terms toward more harmful ones.
Roache distinguishes between objectionable slurs (especially racial slurs) and presumably harmless swear words like "fuck". The latter words, she suggests, should not be forbidden, although she acknowledges that in some contexts it might be inappropriate to use them. Roache also suggests that it's silly to forbid "fuck" while allowing obvious replacements like "f**k" or "the f-word". Roache says, "We should swear more, and we shouldn't use asterisks, and that's fine." (31:20).
I disagree. Overstating somewhat, I disagree because of this:
"Fuck" is a treasure of the English language. Speakers of other languages will sometimes even reach across the linguistic divide to relish its profanity. "Fuck" is a treasure precisely because it is forbidden. Its being forbidden is the source of its profane power and emotional vivacity.
When I was growing up in California in the 1970s, "fuck" was considered the worst of the seven words you can't say on TV. You would never hear it in the media, or indeed -- in my posh little suburb -- from any adults, except maybe, very rarely, from some wild man from somewhere else. I don't think I heard my parents or any of their friends say the word even once, ever. It wasn't until fourth grade that I learned that the word existed. What a powerful word, then, for a child to relish in the quiet of his room, or to suddenly drop on a friend!
"Fuck" is in danger. Its power is subsiding from its increased usage in the public sphere. Much as the overprinting of money devalues it, profanity inflation risks turning "fuck" into another "damn". The hundred-dollar-bill of swear words doesn't buy as much shock as it used to. (Yes, I sound like an old curmudgeon -- but it's true!)
Okay, a qualification: I'm pretty sure what I've just said is true for the suburban California dialect; but I'm also pretty sure "fuck" was never so powerful in some other dialects. Some evidence of its increased usage overall, and its approach toward "damn", is this Google NGram of "fuck", "shit", and "damn" in "lots of books", 1960-2008:
A further risk: As "fuck" loses its sting and emotional vivacity, people who wish to use more vividly offensive language will find themselves forced to other options. The most offensive alternative options currently available in English are racial slurs. But unlike "fuck", racial slurs are plausibly harmful in ordinary use. The cheapening of "fuck" thus risks forcing the migration of profanity to more harmful linguistic locations.
The paradox of prohibition, then: If the woman in the eCard above wishes to preserve the power of her favorite word, she should cheer for it to remain forbidden. She should celebrate, not bemoan, the existence of standards against the use of "fuck" on major networks, the awarding of demerits for its use in school, and its almost complete avoidance by responsible adults in public contexts. Conversely, some preachers might wish to encourage the regular recitation of "fuck" in the preschool curriculum. (Okay, that last remark was tongue in cheek. But still, wouldn't it work?)
Despite the substantial public interest in retaining the forbidden deliciousness of our best swear word, I do think that since the word is in fact (pretty close to) harmless, severe restrictions would be unjust. We must really only condemn it with the forgiving standards we usually apply to etiquette violations, even if this results in the term's not being quite as potent as it otherwise would be.
Finally, let me defend usages like "f**k" and "the f-word". Rather than being silly avoidances because we all know what we're talking about, such decipherable maskings communicate and reinforce the forbiddenness of "fuck". Thus, they help to sustain its power as an obscenity.