Emphatic fucking may not depict or refer to sex, and may not even bring it explicitly to mind. But the link is still there. Why would these uses of the word be considered "dirty" if they weren't polluted by its primary literal use? And what could be the original source of that taint if not the word's literal denotation (or at least, of its denotation relative to the attitudes that obscene words presuppose about sex and the body)? In fact if fuck and fucking weren't connected to sex in all their secondary uses, they would serve no purpose at all.Isn't it what we call a "dying metaphor"? The classic reference is George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language":
A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying.I think that applies to what Nunberg calls "emphatic fucking," a phrase which makes me think Nunberg wasn't interested in all the meanings of what he was saying or (more likely) Nunberg meant to amuse us with a vivid image as he wielded linguistic jargon.
Now it's very easy to conclude that the indignation that some people feel over the promiscuous use of epithetical fucking and the like is a reflection of their prudish inhibitions about sexuality, and that embracing the language helps to dispel those attitudes. As George Carlin put it, "There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad Intentions." That was an article of faith among a the faction among the sixties radicals who made sexual liberation an inseparable part of their political programs. As Jerry Rubin put it:The metaphor is not dead for Nunberg, and I think he wants to keep it alive. The word is good and useful because the metaphorical meaning still lives. Now, Nunberg was born in 1945. That's a lot older than Drezner. For Drezner, the word must seem much more casual and ordinary, more common and also less powerful. Nunberg appreciates the power that comes from sex, power that Drezner probably doesn't feel.There's one word which Amerika hasn't destroyed. One word which has maintained its emotional power and purity. Amerika cannot destroy it because she dare not use it. It's illegal! It's the last word left in the English language: FUCK!I think most cultural liberals still uncritically adopt a version of this understanding of the words. When they uphold people's right to use this sort of language in public against the attempts to censor or limit it, they think of themselves not just as defending free speech, but as striking a blow against sexual repression and hypocrisy. That is, they see themselves as being in a line that stretches back to the Lady Chatterly decision....
The naked human body is immoral under Christianity and illegal under Amerikan law. Nudity is called "indecent exposure." Fuck is a dirty word because you have to be naked to do it.
But if it ever were possible to purge fuck of its literal stigma by eliminating the inhibitions and hangups that the word seems to trail, the secondary uses of the word would lose their raison d'etre....
[W]e should acknowledge that the words are suffused with an affect that's derived from their sexual meanings.
In Orwell's words: "the concrete melts into the abstract."