Droppin’ the F-bomb

Posted: July 4, 2011 in Life in the UK

No, this post is not about my recent tirade in the lab elicited by uncooperative immunoblots in which the loading control would simply not show up  (but seriously, wtf was that about?!).

This post is about a recent F-bomb that got dropped on my wife and I. This is an F-bomb that not even Comrade PhysioProf, the most prolific purveyor of profanity in this sector of the blogosphere has spewed forth. The f-bomb in this case is fag.

I was recently at a party chatting with a Kiwi* who was regaling me with stories of the seven years he spent living in Western Mass. One day while he was at work, his boss comes to him and asks where one of his co-workers is. His co-worker is outside smoking, so the Kiwi responds to his boss:  “he’s out there where all those fag butts are”. His boss pulls him into his office and starts screaming at him that he can’t use that sort of language at work. Eventually things get sorted, but referring to a cigarette as a fag is just one of the many uses of this apparently versatile word.

Then came the f-bomb.

Also while at the party, my wife and I were chatting with an older English gentleman about differences in language between Britain and the US. He was vaguely aware of how offensive the word fag is to an American, although I’m not so sure he entirely understood the deep hatred it conveys. Nonetheless, and despite his apparent understanding, he spent the next 10 minutes telling us how, when he was in college (equivalent of high school in the states), all the older boys had their own fags, who were sent fagging about (apparently it can be used as a verb too!).

“Oh we all had fags!”

“I was a fag at one point too”

“I made them fag just as I fagged when I arrived at college”

Despite having several beers in us, initially my wife and I tried very hard to not be offended by this ostensible outpouring of homophobic hatred. In reality, the chap was conveying the idea that each of the senior boys at the school had one of the new lads as their “fag” that would do their bidding (i.e, fagging), not entirely unlike how in a fraternity at a US university the brothers would treat the new class of pledges.

This was the most prolific use of the word I’ve heard since the high school locker room. After a couple of minutes though it was almost comical seeing this older gentleman with a full on English accent throw around the word “fag” like a ragdoll.

*Someone from New Zealand

  1. Dr. 27 says:

    Oh wow … I sometimes remember that fag=ciggie in the UK, but it still takes me by surprise. I speak Spanish too, and it is comical when you talk to someone from another Spanish-speaking country and this person says something (or I say something) that’s consider a no-no … and laughter ensues. Oh the things we get to see and live, and challenge our understanding.

  2. funkdoctorx says:

    Absolutely. It’s so difficult to suppress that initial reaction to a word you feel is offensive. Although I think the situations in which this occurs self-selects for people that are more open to understanding that language is used so differently on different continents, so as you said, laughter usually ensues!

  3. The Tideliar says:

    The ‘fag’ as a pledge is true. The Sixth Formers (16-18yrs old) would have first years (11 or so) serve as their fags. I believe the homophobic connotation we know and hate over here (US) actually arises from that. Not only did the younger boys perform errands, laundry etc., in some cases they were also routinely sexually abused. Remember, this form of indentured servitude was common at elite boarding schools. Hundreds of horny teenagers locked in together and only allowed home at holidays/vacations…

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Thanks for the informative reply. I didn’t realize the way the word is used in the US is derived from the “pledge” like use of the word fag. It is certainly a word with a more fascinating etymology than I would have ever imagined!

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