The F WordJuly 24th, 2012
You may have noticed that I don’t typically use profanity on this site. It’s not that I have anything against swear words—there is plenty of profanity in the comments here—I just don’t think you get enough bang for the buck with them in long pieces of prose. Written down, I find swear words are usually more distracting than effective at communicating ideas. In contrast, I find profanity to be much more useful in conversation, where you can shape the meaning of words phonetically.
So…what the hell I am babbling about? Well, it turns out that I have the dubious distinction of being the first person to use the “F-word” within the pages of Nature Chemistry. N-Chem has been playing down a man following Neil Withers’ move to Chemistry World, so Stu Cantrill has asked a few bloggers to help out with the monthly Blogroll column. Chemjobber wrote it last month, and I had the honor of writing it for the August 2012 issue. My contribution went live this morning.
Given that my use of profanity in a prestigious chemistry journal could raise some eyebrows, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to defend it. By “it”, I mean this:
Dr Rubidium, an analytical chemist who blogs at the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding, contrasted several cases of homicide by the paralytic agent succinylcholine with its medical use in life-saving tracheal intubations (http://go.nature.com/bFQFv6). Although that post was shockingly free of swear words, an ode to tetracyanoethylene (TCNE) on Carbon-Based Curiosities was as vulgar as it was informative (http://go.nature.com/AmOzuB).
As I understand it, the purpose of the Blogroll column is to promote interesting items and discussion on chemistry blogs to a wider audience (e.g., to stodgy old-timers who believe the Internet is full of garbage). Usually, the column covers any major subjects from the previous month and is then rounded out with one or two smaller items. My first draft for the column was due June 20th, and the major event that stuck out from the month previous was the splendid Favorite Toxic Chemicals carnival hosted by ScienceGeist.
I read through all of the contributions to the carnival, and the one that stuck out as the best was this one on succinylcholine. Naturally, I wanted to make this the example post of the column, but the name of its parent blog is the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding. The traditional citation given to posts featured in the Blogroll column is (name of blogger) at (name of blog), so if I were to use it, Nature Chem was going to have to publish “Fucking”, censor the name of the blog, or change the typical citation format.
The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt Dr. Rubidium’s post deserved to be the #1 representative of the carnival; it really is an interesting, well-written piece. My only question, at that point, was how to deal with the swear word. The three options, as I saw them, were to call the blog:
(1) the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding
(2) the Journal of Are You F-cking Kidding
I ended up leaning towards option 1, because it was the proper, full name of the blog. You can’t replace a word in a proper name with a synonym or scrubbed letters without taking something away from the name. “F-cking” is different from “Fucking”. Since Dr. Rubidium often abbreviates her blog’s name as JAYFK, I thought option 3 was also fine, but less clear.
At this point, I e-mailed Stu (the editor) a couple of days before my draft was due and asked permission to use the F word. The ruling was not immediate; Stu conferred with the rest of the editorial team, and the decision was made that “Fucking”, in this context, was fine. One good point that was raised in their discussion was that some unsuspecting readers might be more offended by clicking a link to “JAYFK” rather than just seeing the F word in the text of the journal.
While I think the proper name argument alone is strong enough to win, I would also raise the point that this variation of the F word is among the most benign. Dr. Rubidium uses it as an adverb to modify “kidding”. To me, this embodiment should count as less offensive than its use as a gerund.
Once the succinylcholine post was chosen as the centerpiece, I decided to highlight Excimer’s tetracyanoethylene post, because in addition to its being informative and entertaining, I could juxtapose this truly vulgar piece against the JAYFK post. And while there were a number of other really nice posts that could have been mentioned, the whole column is only 300 words, so I had to be picky. Sorry. For the closing part of the column, I thought that the traditional old fogeys who only read journals and never read blogs might have their interest piqued by the latest round of discussion of the death of organic synthesis. That’s always a topic that gets people going.
Anyway, that’s the behind-the-scenes tour for this month’s (possibly offensive) Blogroll column. At the end of the day, will people care about one swear word in a chemistry journal?
If so, they can f— off.