What the What?

Several years have passed since my subscription to “Smithsonian” magazine expired. And, since I so irregularly go to the doctor or find myself in train or bus stations, my opportunity to read the magazine I once read cover to cover has been further diminished.

So the publication’s liberal language came as a surprise – to understate dramatically – when I read Ron Rosenbaum’s article, “Without Reservations,” about bad boy chef, TV star and author Anthony Bourdain in the July-August issue: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/anthony-bourdains-theory-foodie-revolution-180951848/

In addition to the rock star credentials and achievements intended to inspire, like heroin addiction, the subject of the article is quoted multiple times using the F-word.

In Smithsonian magazine, for cryin’ in the sink!

Not “Rolling Stone,” where I have long expected to read it. Or some irreverent rag published on a when-we-feel-like-it schedule. Where such language would likewise be unsurprising.

Smithsonian. The magazine that serves the Guardian to the Nation’s Attic, filled with really cool, old stuff.

The article’s subject describes a particular workplace culture “. . . there’s us and f—k everyone else”; he notes the corruption of “the good guys” in third world nations: “If the cops and the army show up, then you’re really f—ked”, later describing Vietnam as “f—king beautiful”; bragging the appeal of his TV show attracted the interest of A-list film directors who, he claims, say they are willing to direct an episode “for f—kin’ scale”; and admonishes readers on the errors of others: “A lot of people think it’s OK to get f—ked up at work.”

Hyphens are as they appear in the magazine’s original text.

Editorialists have gone on at considerable length and vigor about an increasingly “coarse” culture.

I am not one of those with such delicate ears. Though it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment.

You know the thing about people who live in glass houses. (They should get dressed in the basement.)

And this doesn’t seem an instance of gratuitous swearing simply for its shock value, if such a thing exists any more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPB-lb9HDTk (Are advertisers mindful of what they are sponsoring?)

Nor am I unfamiliar with the word, and many of its variations. Or at least so I thought.

Until I began reading Jesse Sheidlower’s “The F-Word” (Oxford University Press, 2009, 3rd ed.). Typically, I attribute both my knowledge and self-congratulatory colorful use of the word to my New Jersey roots.

Instead, the Smithsonian surprise was the word’s appearance in that context. My reaction echoes a Supreme Court decision parsing the difference between indecency and obscenity where one justice wrote “words that are commonplace in one setting are shocking in another” (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation).

Perhaps it’s the snob appeal of food porn that affords literary color. Or, maybe it’s just porn that’s appealing.