The current British slang for God

Carol Iannone (see her posts at Phi Beta Cons) writes:

Yesterday I heard the F-word on C-Span. A Scottish panelist discussing a new book by one Michael Hardt, Commonwealth, said that he, the panelist, came from a mining district in Scotland but that he “had not had to work in the mines, thank f**k.” Is this now a common expression in Britain? I remember that it was used in that rather smutty movie, Closer, directed by Mike Nichols and based on a play by a British playwright. Not sure if it was already an expression or if the movie made it one. Whatever, why does C-Span allow that word ? The FCC should fine them.

LA replies:

If, as seems to be the case, it a common expression, it perfectly expresses, by replacing “God” with “f**k,” what I’ve long said before about Britain, that it is the most aggressively atheistic society on earth. And it also happens to be the society that is most rapidly and without any significant resistance committing national suicide. A coincidence?

- end of initial entry -

Ingemar P. writes:

Wouldn’t the title for “most aggressively atheistic society on Earth” go to either China or North Korea? Though both, like Ungreat Britain, are committing national suicide: the former as a matter of public reproductive policy, the latter through savage mistreatment of its own citizens.

As for the original post, I don’t think “thank f___” is a common saying Over There—but then again I am basing this on the speech of one English coworker.

El Ingles writes from England:

“Thank f**k” is very common, though “for f**k’s sake” is even more so. we all say that all the time, including me. I didn’t realize it was such a British thing.

LA replies:

Thanks for this information, desolating though it is to hear it. That the British commonly say “f**k” in place of “God” in expressions such as “Thank God” and “For God’s sake,” represents the quintessence of the extreme decadence, nihilism, and collective self-hatred of the British that I’ve been writing about for years and that absolutely dooms them as a society if they don’t repent.

And by the way, I wonder what response the secular, atheist, and anti-Christian “right” in America would have to this. Do they think such behavior is compatible with the survival of Britain, or of any Western society? But if not, what would they—as disbelievers in God, enemies of Christianity, and mockers of the transcendent—have to say against it?

The atheist right can’t stand it when I say this, but an anti-Christian conservatism is as impossible as a four-legged furry eagle.

Kristor writes:

When you eliminate the transcendent from your understanding of reality, it is only natural that f**king should then fill the resulting vacuum—should become your god. If this world is all there is, and this world is strictly material, then we are nothing but animals, just ambulatory sacks of chemicals, and f**king is the best and most important thing we can do, both in terms of maximizing the hedonic utility of our experience, and in terms of our reproductive success. If there be no God, then f**king really is our god.

JPG writes:

You go too far. I do not hate Christianity. Faith is a gift I have not been given. Using the F-Bomb is a degradation of language. That’s why I oppose it. The Elizabethans had a highly developed culture of insult and blasphemy that was flowery and eloquent. This man represents the collapse of Western civilisation. I honestly don’t understand why it is so difficult for you to understand that crude and degenerate language is an affront to more than just traditional Christians.

LA replies:

I was not saying and do not believe that such language is an affront only to traditional Christians. First, to repeat a distinction I make constantly, my comment was not about non-believers generally, but about people who are actively against belief in God and Christianity. Second, I was not saying that such people have no problem with this sort of degradation of language; I was saying that, being actively opposed to the belief that man is anything more than matter, they have no viable, effective basis on which to oppose such degradation. Any higher values they call on are parasitic of the traditional view of existence that they despise and seek to topple.

December 3

El Ingles (whose important articles on the Islam threat VFR has discussed here and here) writes:

What would you make of a very common British expression like “what the f**k are you doing?.” The word f**k seems to be replacing, most obviously, the word hell, or, more quaintly, the word devil. Is this symptomatic of a change in British attitudes to the devil? Or to hell? or both?

More interestingly, if the word f**k is now used to stand in for both god AND the devil, as appears to be the case, what would you make of that? you seem to have an interest in these things, so i thought i would point it out.

One thing that does occur to me is that in expressions like “Thank God,” or “For God’s sake,” one can see what role the word god is playing, and how the word “f**k” fits in, arbitrary though it may be. But “the devil” in “what the devil are you doing” does not have any grammatical function that I can see. it’s just a strange interjection. I think Steven Pinker has written something about this from a linguistic point of view.

LA replies:

Obviously, the shocking expressions, “Thank f**k,” or “For f**k’s sake,” are of a different order from the common expression, “What the f**k.” Is El Ingles seriously claiming that they are the same and have an equivalent significance? “Devil” and “hell” are bad and negative. Replacing them by “f**k” makes the negativity more emphatic. There is no comparison between that and replacing the word “God” with “f**k.” “Thank f**k” is an extremely blasphemous and nihilistic statement. It is troubling that even a right-winger like El Ingles doesn’t see this. Does he expect Britain to recover its morale and push back against the Islam threat, while he takes for granted, and even defends, Britain’s own terminal nihilism? Does he think that a people that casually blasphemes God in the most disgusting way imaginable are going to have the idealism and will to defend their existence from a mortal enemy?

December 3

El Ingles replies:

It is fairly obvious that replacing the word “god” with the word “f**k” will offend someone who believes in the god in question. This is not a surprise to me. I did not suggest that “what the f**k” was identical to “thank f**k,” and explicitly spelled out the structural difference, which is interesting in its own right.

All these utterances are made almost entirely unconsciously, and are simply internalized by people as they learn to speak, for better or for worse. In a largely religiously unobservant society, hardly anyone ever thinks about any of this. Undoubtedly, when the changes were first occurring, in recent decades, there would have been those who made the change deliberately to scandalize. Today it’s just part of the furniture for most of us (at least, those of us who are prone to swear at all).

Describing this as blasphemous to a self-described atheist is, I am afraid, to use a word that has no meaning in his mental universe. denigrating in some fashion the Christian god is not more blasphemous than denigrating Wotan. it may well offend more people, but that is simply a function of the lack of wotan-believers.

It is untrue, as a matter of fact, to say that “thank f**k” is nihilistic. I assure you that people of all belief systems and none (including Christians, though they may tend to be more careful) will use the term occasionally, if not frequently, and mean precisely nothing by it in terms of the existence of meaning in the universe. I understand that that is probably not what you meant. but it is only nihilistic to a believing Christian who founds all notions of value on the truth of Christian doctrine. I brought up Steven Pinker because he has written somewhere that the use of profanity is governed by a different part of the brain than normal speech (hence Tourette’s Syndrome and the like), which may account for such phenomena as the colonization of parts of the English language by words such as f**k (you stupid f**k! what the f**king f**k are you doing! etc.). we do not all see the decline of Western civilization in each falling leaf.

Even a “right-winger” like me sees very well where you are coming from on your basic point, by the way. My grandmother is a strict Catholic and we always had to be careful about saying “for god’s sake” and the like around her. “For f**k’s sake” would have been unthinkable. You are very quick, perhaps even eager, to conclude that other conservatives/right-wingers do not understand X, thereby leaving themselves outside the “real conservatives.” A small force, indeed, to retake the West.

As for your point about whether the UK can be defended if even rightwingers like me, I will remind you that rightwingers like me are doing a good deal more than our state religion, the Church of England, which seems to be on the other side. Need I remind you of the utterances of the Archbishop of Canterbury? You will find 10,000 of me to be a good deal more useful than 10,000 of him, of that I can assure you. I admit that this is a cheap shot. But you seem to be well aware of the uselessness of mainstream British Christianity in this regard, and this in turn renders claims of the primacy of Christianity in the fight against Islamization rather hollow.

To be honest, my original email to you was more playful than anything else. perhaps I should be more careful when emailing religiously devout people.

LA replies:

While El Ingles doesn’t attack Christianity in his comment, he speaks of it as though it were some absurd irrelevant oddity not worthy of minimal respect. He says that to turn “thank God” into “thank f**k” is not blasphemous or even offensive, if one doesn’t believe in God, and since virtually no one in Britain believes in such nonsense any more, what difference does it make? Only weird Christians care about such things. The nihilism of people casually saying, “thank f**k,” is not, according to him, nihilism, it’s just the way things are, just the way people are brought up to be. And how can anyone criticize the way things are and the way people are brought up to be? It is, he suggests, an irrational thing to do so.

But by the same token isn’t the Islamization of Britain, and Britain’s nonjudgmental acceptance of Islamization, just something that’s happening, just the way things are? So how can anyone disapprove of or try to stop Britain’s surrender to Islam? Isn’t that an irrational thing to do?

He tells us that people don’t mean anything when they say “thank f**k,” it’s just an expression. But to deny that things have moral meaning, to deny that there is a right and wrong—that is nihilism. And to deny that there any moral meaning in the expression, “thank f**k,” and any moral effect on the society that accepts such an expression, is quintessential nihilism.

Once you have stripped meaning from the most sacred things, once you speak with utter indifference or barely concealed contempt about the people who still care about them, what is there left to defend? Why should people defend their society? He has no answer to this other than to say that people like him care more about defending Britain than does Rowan Williams. But that proves nothing, and, as he acknowledges, is a cheap shot, since, of course, British Christianity as it now exists is part of the problem.

He says that “thank f**k” is not offensive, and only a devout Christian would be offended by it. In reality, any decent person would be offended by it. But Britain has gone so low, that the instinct by which people would normally react against such offenses is gone.

And that’s what I mean when I say that Britain is dead.

Dan D. writes:

Trying to find the root cause of this f-word discussion.

Who uses the f-word and when is a good indication of class in the U.S. but certainly not an indicator of formal education or even wealth. So the divide in cultures between the UK and U.S. is probably the hidden factor in your instinctive repulsion at such language so blithely defended by the user.

Somehow we Americans view the UK culture as similar to our own but with British quaintness that we admire. But stereotypes and reality are clashing. Having seen how young white middle class girls speak in the U.S. versus a mere 20 years ago has opened my eyes to our own cultural degradation. This lowering of speech standards permeates all of our culture, no one is immune. And it is due to the “liberal” broth we are all steeped in.

As an example: Six years ago I had joined a church (Christian) that I was attracted to, in part, because I believed it was traditionalist. So time passes and people become less guarded and more open about their opinions. I begin to find groups within the congregation that are of a similar mind about things, regardless of the churches “conservative” reputation. And sure enough we get to where this body “politic” is at; namely “whites should feel especially guilty,” we need more diversity (specifically more Mexicans) in our little town, and of course I’m told point blank to lighten up my critical stance regarding homosexuality.

Cognitive Dissonance ensued. How could this be? I agonized over this seeming difference between my perceptions and reality for several years. This group of nice people were essentially like most of upper-middle-upper class Americans, i.e. they are liberals! Nice people who wear the ostentatious garb of traditionalists like children dressing up in mom & dads clothes. It didn’t matter what the church traditional beliefs were, the mass of the congregation comes from the society at large.

The majority of the people of the UK may seem similar to us, same language, genetic make-up, but they’re basically Europeans, which is basically quite Liberal. And so it goes. Where you may believe you have a ground of commonality, you suddenly hear your UK correspondent saying “thank f,” with a “WTF is your problem?” if you demure.

They (the UK) can’t sink fast enough it seems. But the Scandinavians aren’t far behind with their church attendance at 4-5 percent. But also notice they are all very careful not to insult the god of Islam, aren’t they?

LA replies:

Thank you for this insightful comment. You have put your finger on one of the main forces of the age, which hardly any conservatives understand. Beyond the explicit liberal ideology, which conservatives are aware of and resist to varying degrees, there is the unseen but pervasive liberal cultural complex of attitudes, dress, and speech, all conveying the liberal message of radical personal freedom (not in the economic and political realm, but in the sexual and self-expressive sense) and rejection of the transcendent. And the conservatives don’t see this, because they live in this liberal culture as fish in the sea. And when you point it out, they dismiss it out of hand, or become disdainful or enraged.

A quibble regarding your reference to my “instinctive repulsion at such language”: the F-word is not the issue here. I suppose we could have a whole discussion about the F-word, but it’s not the issue. The issue is the common use of the F-word in expressions that normally speak of God, as in “Thank God.”

Leonard D. writes:

On this matter of “thank f**k,” it is clear to me as I wrote you before that this is a small battle in the cultural war. On the one side are progressives, who wish to tear down all values and order, but particularly the metaphysical order of the Christian society. They do this by being “transgressive,” which they have raised to a virtue. On the other side, is the grab-bag of normal people: conservatives, middle of the road types, both religious and not. That is why it is such an effective attack: many of the people on our side do not have any particular reason to be offended by it, at least not directly. The continual stream of transgressions split us.

I am an atheist, and think that people like El Ingles need to be a little more sensitive to their allies. If your allies are attacked culturally, for you to let the progressives win is to hand a victory to your own enemies. You may not care if everyone says “thank f**k,” but you ought to care that saying “thank f**k” is cool and edgy. Whatever is cool now serves as a filter for those that strive for power. By allowing “thank f**k” to be cool, you are ensuring that the next generation of the ruling class are progressives. Do you want to be ruled by the sort of person who says “thank f**k”? I don’t.

I doubt there is anything to be done about Britain on this one; it is too late. But we should disapprove of this sort of thing here, where we can. Certainly, I would suggest that everyone on our side who has gotten in the habit of using profanity should give it up. When I was in college I swore a bunch at one point, but I tired of the habit because I felt I was not fully in control of it, and that it debased my ability to communicate. Therefore, I just stopped doing it. I have never regretted doing so.

December 4

Carol Iannone writes:

Your answer is very good; aside from the blasphemous quality of calling of f* rather than God, just the use of the f-word is offensive and has obviously become a habit many have formed without even thinking about it anymore, not realizing the lack of decorum and respect for the good that it signals.

Matthew writes:

I have to say that the phrase “thank f—k” is not common in England. I have heard it perhaps twice in my life. However it may be more common in Scotland for all I know. I cannot agree with El Ingles’s observation about its commonness.

Personally I find the frequent OMG references to be rather infuriating. Obviously it is only Christianity that can be abused in this manner.

I am also unconvinced that Britain is “the most atheistic society on Earth.” Our churches may be crumbling but we have faith in our new gods of multiculturalism and “vibrancy”!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 30, 2009 03:06 PM | Send

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