The F Word

July 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

(3) JAYFK

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.


25 Responses to “The F Word”

  1. See Arr Oh Says:

    Interesting choice. I’ve often wanted to publish words like these, but always scrubbed ‘em at the last second. Thanks for your explainer and candor.

  2. JBH1982 Says:

    I would imagine anyone who took serious offense at one little word is either a complete arsole or copper nanotube and needs to develop a sense of humor. There is nothing offensive about any word used in the correct context, if people take offense at such petty things then we might as well just fucitol.

  3. excimére Says:

    I’m so proud of you, Paul.

  4. The Sceptical Chymist: August 2012 issue : The Sceptical Chymist Says:

    […] Rubidium, Excimer, ScienceGeist, Chemjobber and Derek Lowe. But that’s not the new bit… Paul’s written a blogpost explaining what is somewhat unique about his column (strong language included in that […]

  5. Klaas Wynne Says:

    I believe that the UK Guardian newspaper has a rule that outlaws the use of **** etc in the paper. Although it does not promote the use of swearwords, it thinks that if such a word is required, it should just be spelled out. I completely fucking agree with that point of view.

  6. bad wolf Says:

    I’m more surprised you highlighted a dead blog like CBC. That’s two posts in calendar year 2012, one not by one of the founders of record. The chemical blogosphere would seem to have moved on.

  7. excimére Says:

    CBC’s brilliance often outweighs its inertness. But i’m partial.

  8. Paul Says:

    I thought about the lack of activity on CBC, but went ahead because: (1) the post was restaurant quality, (2) CBC is/was a great site and deserves at least one mention in a Blogroll as a sort of lifetime achievement award, (3) users turned on by Excimer’s post could access many years of similarly great posts from their archive. It’s kind of like how I prefer to watch TV: find out what was good five years ago then rent the box set.

  9. Jyllian Says:

    Saw this and thought of you:

    http://www.npr.org/2012/07/24/156623763/swearing-a-long-and-history

  10. stewie griffin Says:

    Woohoo. I found a what’s wrong with this picture today at slate.com:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2012/07/how_to_improve_teaching_new_evidence_that_poor_teachers_can_learn_to_be_good_ones_.html

  11. wolfie Says:

    Are you still wearing crutches ? Most of the officially available photos on the internet show you in ths deplorable state.

  12. qvxb Says:

    What’s the point of F-bombs in a chemistry blog? They diminish the content of the posts. Don’t use profanity unless you’re discussing chem lectures at Goodfellas U.

  13. Chemjobber Says:

    Now there’s a joke post in the making.

  14. eugene Says:

    Ah yes, the journal known as “Nature (we take fucking forever to review your paper) Chemistry”.

    Come on! Just reject it already so that I can submit it to jackass or andjewandte. The three month long suspense of thinking about whether one of the competitors was a reviewer and is now forcing his army of foreign postdocs to put the finishing touches on his own submission, is killing me… Not to mention the suspense of not being able to apply for a good job without this significant paper on my CV in the middle of job ads season… Did everyone just take five, or a month and a half, for the Euro and the Olympics?

    Heyzeus. I submitted another paper a month later to Andjewandte and it got rejected, like, forever ago. Definitely going with one of the faster guys with the one I’m writing now.

  15. eugene Says:

    Normally I wouldn’t care really. I just need a fast turnaround time due to the job search. Last year I probably wouldn’t have minded waiting 6 months.

  16. Stu Says:

    @eugene – we try and get manuscripts refereed as quickly (and effectively) as we can. Alas, sometimes the process goes more slowly than the authors (and editors) want it to. We are very much at the mercy of our referees in terms of how quickly they report; we give 2 weeks as a deadline (sometimes 3 over summer), but if a referee doesn’t report (for whatever reason), if we don’t have enough to make a decision on, we try and find someone else – and unfortunately the process does drag on in some cases. I’m sorry your experience has not been a positive one. Stu (Chief Editor of Nature “we try not to take fucking forever to review your paper but sometimes shit happens and we’re sorry about that” Chemistry)

  17. @DrRubidium Says:

    I had no idea that JAYFK is the first time the f-word has been published in Nature Chemistry. This is an honor and a privilege. Thank you! :D Also, thanks for the kinds words about my sux post.

  18. wolfie Says:

    We all see now that chemistry can have therapeutic value, in itself.

  19. eugene Says:

    Ah Stu, didn’t see your reply earlier. Fair enough. I guess I was a bit frustrated. It’s not every journal that gets you an answer in a science blog, so that’s a big plus. I’ll be surprised if I ever read Stang reply to me bitching about Jackass online. I got the reviews back as well… I guess one of the reviewers went AWOL, which is pretty much what we guessed, but that just made the boss (and me) paranoid that it was one of our competitors.

    Anyways, I’m still probably going to submit the next one to Jackass, but only because I have waaaaay too many words at this point. Well, it’s the big boss’ final decision anyways. The next few things I can write are not Nature Chemistry level, so I can try to become a PI or do another postdoc if I want to submit more stuff to you guys.

    Also, I have a hard time coming up with a suitable nickname for your magazine. I have Jackass for JACS, and Andjewandte for Angewandte, and Chemistry: A forgotten journal for Chemistry: A European journal, but I’m drawing a blank here. Any suggestions? ‘Abnormality Chemistry’ just doesn’t have a good ring to it.

  20. Paul Says:

    @Eugene: Nature Chemistry = “Not Your Chemistry”?

  21. bad wolf Says:

    Paul wins the “zing of the day!”

    eugene, my dictionaries fail at translating “Andjewandte” so if you wouldn’t mind explaining the joke there…? (or is the joke that all google searches for it come up with eugene’s comments on chem blogs?)

  22. eugene Says:

    Paul, that’s a good one. Way better than just picking an antonym. I have to think about it. It’s definitely not an easy one, like ‘PNAS’ for ‘P.N.A.S.’ I’m having a lot of trouble with ‘Science’ actually.

    bad wolf, ‘Andjewandte’ is how proper Americans pronounce the name of the journal. None of that pretentious foreign crap. Read it like it’s written in American. The way they want you to pronounce it with a ‘g’ like in ‘going’ is an abomination.

    The best part about my pronunciation is that I got the Germans in the lab to say it my way too. Also one of them is very keen on my this Goeesee poet that is pretty big back there. I think they named a university in Frankfurt after him.

  23. Stu Says:

    I think Paul might have nailed the nickname. We don’t really have any for ourselves and I’ve not heard any while out on my travels – that’s not to say they don’t exist. One of these days I’ll refer to the journal as ‘Mature Chemistry’, what with the ‘m’ and ‘n’ being neighbours on the keyboard. And I’ll let ‘Mature Chemistry’ conjure up whatever pictures you want it to…!

  24. 50 things you might not know about Nature Chemistry : The Sceptical Chymist Says:

    […] by Paul Bracher. It’s all DrRubidium‘s fault… Paul blogged about the experience here. The editorial team discussed if we should go ahead and use the word in all its glory and we […]

  25. Of a swear word & a most cited Indian-American : Indigenus Says:

    […] made its debut in Nature Chemistry through one of their blogrolls in July last year. Also the explanation for it. I’m not sure if the word or similar such have a longer association with NPG. I shall […]


Leave a Reply

*