“F you!”


Click play to listen to the full chapter:

(Coming soon)


Warning: This chapter contains swear words. It’s hard to discuss this topic without using curse words. Amusingly, even when I censor the words, you still know what word I’m (not) saying. People who are offended by swearing should also read this chapter, it’s intended for both ends of the spectrum.


So, this happened …

I’ve always enjoyed going to live theatre performances, which is why it was so important for me to see shopping and f*cking.

And in case you didn’t know, “Shopping and F*cking” is a famous play (famous for obvious reasons?) by Mark Ravenhill.

When I heard the play was going to be in town, I couldn’t wait to book tickets. I knew it by reputation, but had not yet had the opportunity to see it live. So I called the ticket line to book, and patiently doodled while listening to their annoying ‘hold’ music.

Then an operator spoke-up, “Good morning! Ticket Line, how may I help you?”

“I’d like to buy four tickets to Shopping and . . .” and I froze. Shopping and what? Could I say “f*cking”? Would I offend the operator? Damn, I didn’t plan this well enough. Shopping and . . . what?

She heard the pause, so stepped in to save me, “You’d like to buy four tickets to Shopping and Effing?”

“Oh yes! Shopping and Effing. That’s it, thank you,” as I let out a deep breath.

After the phone call, I thought about the absurdity of the operator calling it “Shopping and Effing”, after all, I was the one who called to buy tickets to the show in the first place! And then there’s the even greater absurdity of my freezing up before saying the word “f*cking” to a person whose job it is to sell tickets to that particular show.

Why were we both being so coy about the F-word?

A few years ago, I found out over a group lunch meeting that a work colleague of mine is offended by the word “f*ck”, and that’s OK. People are entitled to their preferences, and we shouldn’t judge that.

It was just really confusing for me when, during a subsequent team lunch where I was teasing him about something, he turned to me and declared, “F you, Greg!”

For someone who was offended by the word “f*ck”, his “F” sure packed a punch!

Simple Definition

F you!  We all use euphemisms: for curse words, for our feelings, for body parts and bodily functions. We use euphemisms to soften the impact of the truth. Sometimes this is smart in that it takes the edge off, for both parties. Other times it’s silly because everyone knows what was meant, regardless of what word was actually was said.

Summarizing what it means

This #hashtag-story has so many sub-themes, including why words are offensive, why we censor ourselves, and why we lie to ourselves. And amusingly, why we believe our own lies.

For those of you who prefer to read short-form articles, just read this Summary section and then stop. For those of you who’d like to think a little more deeply about the subject, there are many more ideas in the Discussion section below.

Really silly (because … who are we kidding?)

The main thing that strikes me when I think above this all, is that there is fundamentally no difference between “F” and “f*ck”, or “effing” and ‘“f*cking”. Whichever version you say, I know what you’re thinking. I can feel your emotions just as keenly whether you say “F” or “f*ck”.

It makes no difference. And yet we do it.

Really smart (because … we’ve been kidding ourselves our whole lives)

And yet, we allow ourselves to be kidded!

We feel like we’re getting away with something when we drop three of the letters. And when we hear “F” instead of the full word, somehow we allow ourselves to be less offended by the words.

It really does make all the difference. And so we do it.


And if you’re someone who thinks when you’re reading (see #[The field that became a black hole] for more on this), then you’ve probably noticed that I’m writing the word with an asterisk, not with a ‘u’.

Swearing doesn’t offend me, but I still chose to self-censor.

Partly, it’s because the Google algorithm is believed to be a little negative towards sites with too many expletives, and I’d rather not get down-rated. And partly, it’s because I want the message of this chapter to be accessible to anyone, including M those who prefer not to see the word written out in full.

Effing everything

Although the #hashtag-story is about the F-word, the reality is that the implication of the lesson is wider than that. This includes the general use of euphemisms, censoring ideas, lying to ourselves, irony, and more.

In the discussion below, we will explore these other ideas in more detail, and give ourselves a chance to think about what’s really going on inside our own heads.

Ultimately, when you see euphemisms being used, then – in your mind – label them immediately with the hashtag #[F you!]. This allows you to instantly appreciate the nature of what you’re witnessing, to immediately understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, and to prompt you to respond most appropriately, whether in thought or in deed.

Discussing what it means

The sentiment behind the words

Curse words can be offensive. But it’s not because of some structural aspect of the word. t’s not true, for example, that all four-letter words are offensive. And not every body-part reference causes upset.

Instead, a curse word can be offensive because of the emotion that exists in the speaker when they use it, which in turn creates emotions in the mind of the recipient when they hear it.

So, during my work lunch where my colleague said, “F you, Greg!” to me, he was feeling strong emotions, and was trying to create a strong emotional response in me. This actually made the censored version, spoken with pure venom, no different to using the actual swear word. Did he really think he was showing restraint by spitting out a one-letter word rather than all four of the letters?

Although the word was edited, the emotion was just as strong. And for most people, the offence they take from an angry person yelling “F you!” is no less than had the person used the full word. #BecauseEmotions

Certainly, under normal circumstances, I would have been offended by his censored exclamation if I hadn’t been smiling on the inside at the inconsistency.

(By the way, in relation to my friends who are offended by swearing, I’ve tried swearing in front of them using a similar word from another language. I’ve found that even though they can guess it’s the same word, they are still not nearly as offended as if I’d spoken the English word.)

Laozi Confucius never said thank you

You’re fired!

Similarly, imagine a scenario where your boss is asking you to leave the company immediately. She has the option of saying, “You’re fired!” or “Sorry, but today is your last day, please leave now.”

Assuming you (conveniently) wanted to leave anyway, I would guess you are more likely to be offended by the former choice of words. What’s interesting is that you wouldn’t be offended because they’re using the word “fired”, you’d be offended because you know they had the option of saying it nicely, but instead they chose to use the harsher phrase. You’d be bothered that they selected a phrase that would demonstrate their anger and would create a negative emotional response in you. It’s not the word, it’s the sentiment.

So too it is with curse words.

Sticking stars on the page

I was born and grew up in South Africa, where the conservative church was a dominant influence in society. Until the early 1990s, public nudity was banned by the law. It was very strict.

But here are the amusing bits:

  • The ban applied to nipples, but not the breast – thus a so-called ‘girlie magazine’ could show the full breast of a naked woman, as long as they printed a small star over the nipple.
  • If the woman was topless (albeit censored) that was fine. But if she was deemed by the censors to be looking into the camera in a sexual or lascivious way, then the entire magazine would get banned too, and pulled off the shelves.
  • It even got so absurd that one of the magazines started printing wax stars (like you get on those scratch-off lottery tickets) with the logic that anyone scratching it off would clearly not be doing this by mistake, and therefore would not be scarred for life by seeing what was hidden underneath, and yet they were fined for that too. Apparently society would fall apart if the stars were not permanent.

So the nipple is evil, but not the breast. Topless is OK as long as the model isn’t looking “come hither”. Oh for F sake!


I understand that some people come from more conservative backgrounds, and are offended by seeing nudity. But often, even the thought of nudity appears to be offensive to some.

For example, there are outcries when a mother breastfeeds her child on a train, all the while fully wrapped-up with a blanket, with no nudity being visible. The mother is doing it respectfully, nothing is showing, and the inappropriate thoughts are arising in the mind of the ‘viewer’, who then says it’s the mother who is doing something wrong.

And it’s easy enough to find news articles where this happens even amongst government ministers breast-feeding in Parliament, in many countries.

Surely there is a difference between a working mother trying to do her job and look after her new-born child, and an exhibitionist taking clothes off in public?

The c-word

While you might not be offended by the word c**t (it’s just a word, and I mean no offence by writing it here – especially since I’ve gone as far as using two asterisks!), the reality is that Google might be. Well, not offended in an AI-awareness way, but in an algorithm-penalty way, so I’ve decided not to spell that particular one out either.

If you’ve read “Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler, you will know that the author doesn’t like the fact that the so-called “worst swear word” in English is a female body part, and she encourages women to stand up and “own” the word, to use it openly. Her goal is that, through making it common use, it will lose its sting. I think there has been some progress in this area, but for most people, though, it’s still an offensive word. It’s still, for many, the most offensive word.

Australians have taken it to the extreme, to the extent there is a joke about them which says, “Australia is the only place where they call their friends “c**t” and their enemies “friend”.

Yes, like many things in life, we get used to things we’re exposed to.

Biblical proportions

In English, we differentiate between “god” (which is a generic term) and “God” (which is the name of the god). And this is correct grammar – in the same way that Mommy is capitalized but mother (as a noun) is not.

Jewish people have the interesting practice writing “G_d”. The belief is that, since the word is capitalized and thus represents the god, it would be blasphemy to write the full word in their notebooks, which then could be just thrown away.

Formal prayer books use the full word “God”, and then when it’s time for them to be taken out of circulation, I’ve heard that they get buried and not destroyed – because they contain the name of God. But in school exercise books, for example, they write “G_d” so the books can be discarded with no offence.

But coming back to intent, when someone writes “G_d”, their intention is still that they are referring to the god – therefore it’s still just another alphabetic representation of the same god entity. So it’s not clear to me that one spelling would offend while the other wouldn’t, when both words refer to the same deity in capitalized form.

This is not to judge whether it’s right or wrong, it’s simply to note that this is what is done. It remains a practice of the Jewish people, regardless of whether others consider it inconsistent.

Inconsistent use

The purpose of this chapter is to think about euphemisms, whether they are swear words, body parts, or white lies that soften the impact of the message.

And as we’ve noted, sometimes the use is smart, and sometimes the use is silly. But at least if we’re aware of those moments, we can be smarter overall about what we say, what we communicate, and what we interpret.

I don’t doubt that I have some odd hang-ups of my own, as do you. But in spite of our universal flaws, I still smile at inconsistencies in general.

  • “Sh*t” used to be a terrible word, but now society is (generally) quite relaxed about it
  • “Hell” used to be considered an offensive word, in spite of the fact that it appeared (and still does :)) in the bible 54 times (according to a couple of sources I checked)
  • I don’t understand how people classify words in their mind, but I know people who will say “sh*t” and “shag” and “cr*p” and “BJ”, but they won’t say “f*ck”
  • There was a discussion on Reddit where someone complained about receiving a so-called unsolicited “dick pic” in her inbox. She was offended by the accompanying comment that the person sent which said “I want to f*** you”, but didn’t seem offended by the fact that she had been sent a highly sexual photo by a stranger.

Plausible Deniability

And yet, in spite of the fact that a word and its euphemism mean the same thing, there are indeed people who are definitely less offended by the euphemism than the word itself. They ignore the sentiment, and focus on the structure of the word.

Again, I’m not here to say which is right or wrong. I just observe that some people – like my ex-colleague – are not offended by the edited version, but are genuinely upset by the full word.

As someone much cleverer than me once said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”

And so while it makes no sense that using euphemisms would make the sentiment less offensive, they do.

And so, when the circumstances call for it, we should.

Finally Finishing with a Few Footnotes For Functional eFFect

Euphemisms are everywhere – swear words, body parts, references to death.

Sometimes it’s smart to use them, because it makes you feel less aggressive, or because you expect you will create less offence in the other person.

And sometimes it’s silly because, regardless of what word is being used, the sentiment behind it (or the reaction it creates) is the key.

Zooming out for a moment to look at the #HashtagYourLife system, we can see that each chapter uses the same process for altering perspective and for improving your life:

  • tell a story, so people have a context for the chapter
  • label the story, in this case it’s #[F you!]
  • discuss the thinking behind the concept to create a deeper understanding of what it means for you, and how to apply it.

For further reading, you might consider the following themes:

  • Challenge the way you’ve been brought up to think, in #[Luxury Bridges]
  • Consider how your aversion to, or obsession with, euphemisms might be like unnecessarily carrying stuff around #[The big bunch of keys in my pocket]
  • Think about whether you over-interpret what is being said (or the intent behind what was said) in #[Interesting but ugly]
  • Remember your opinion about curse words won’t always match another’s opinion, as discussed in #[Sexually adventurous: 8/10]
  • Be careful of judging (or avoiding) a solution because of the words that are used, along the lines of #[The Hello Kitty Stapler].

In a world of overwhelm, being able to label a situation and instantly understand what’s going on, is a powerful way of understanding and thus simplifying your life.

Making it personal

In future, when you choose to use (or not use) a euphemism, or when you hear someone choose to use one (or not), it’s worth asking yourself:

  • Is the word or phrase fundamentally offensive, or is it just … words?
  • What emotion are they conveying by what they say?
  • What emotion are they trying to create in you, by their choice of words?
  • Are you going to allow yourself to be controlled by others?
  • Or would you rather choose a world where you’re in control of what you feel and how you react?

For now, as usual, I’m going to pose some questions to you … your goal is to see if you can “make them fit”. Of course it’s easy to declare “I’m proud that I say fuck and not F, because I’m true to myself”, and that’s fine. But try to also take into account the other person, and how they will react to your choice of words or actions.

Look past the obvious swear words, and find areas in your life where you do use euphemisms, consider why, and decide if it’s better to use them more or less in future.

My questions. Your answers.

Let’s start with the obvious:

  • Do you swear? If not, is it simply because it’s more polite not to, or because you find it offensive?
  • If you’re reading an article (like this one, or anything by Mark Manson), are you less likely to read it because you see the F-word, regardless of the additional introspection and value you might get from the reading?
  • Do you forgive your friends for swearing, but get offended when strangers do? Or maybe the other way around?
  • If certain words or phrases offend you, could you simplify your life if you let go a little? I don’t necessarily mean saying it yourself, but just learning to be indifferent to hearing it.
  • Would your life be slightly better if there were fewer things that offended you?

And the bigger picture … where else do use euphemisms in your life?

  • Are there people in your life (including you) who say “I’m fine!” when clearly they’re not? Are they making things better or worse by using that phrase? Are they kidding anyone? Are they doing it to fan the flames of their own anger at that point, or in an attempt to avoid a discussion? What would be a better way of dealing with the question when you’re clearly not fine?
  • Do you tell people that you’re “a little sad”, but actually you’re feeling depressed? Is it because it’s someone you don’t know well, and would rather not open up to them? Are you worried your friends will judge you? Would you rather not burden others with your problems? What could you do differently?
  • (Seriously, if you’re depressed, please speak to someone about it – ideally a professional.)
  • If you’re a parent, and you’ve just had a screaming match with your partner that probably the neighbours heard, do you tell your children, “Don’t worry darling, Mommy and Daddy were just having a discussion – there’s nothing wrong.” Are you actually helping your children by saying that? Is there a better, more honest, more constructive way of talking with your children?
  • When last did you say to someone, “Nevermind, you just wouldn’t understand”? How do you think they felt when you said that? Is there a better way of dealing with it?

Although you should enjoy reading these chapters, there is the additional aim of learning from what you’re reading, and making your life better.

It would be a pity to click away from this chapter without improving things, so take your time here.

Related Stories

#[The field that became a black hole]

#[Luxury Bridges]

#[The big bunch of keys in my pocket]

#[Interesting but ugly]

#[Sexually adventurous: 8/10]

#[The Hello Kitty Stapler]


Headline Picture Credit