Regarding “Our F***ing City”

It’s Big Papi’s world, we just live in it, if you’ll allow me to adapt Dean Martin’s line about Sinatra. I have yet to come down from my high about the Red Sox winning the World Series last month, and David Ortiz has a lot to do with it. So much awesomeness, like the game-winning grand slam agains the Tigers that sent Torii Hunter over the bull-pen wall in Fenway’s center field,  the World Series Game 4 pep talk, and of course, the amazing post-season batting–.353 overall, and a whopping .688 in the Series itself.

But I suspect I am not alone among Red Sox fans when I say that Papi’s finest moment came at the pre-game ceremnony just after the Boston Marathon bombings in April. Ortiz took the mike to thank Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, and the BPD, and then said, “This is our fucking city, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedoms. Stay strong!” It was an instantly iconic moment.

Was it wrong for Ortiz to swear like that? Not according to the FCC  (whose chairman, Julius Genachowski, is from Brookline, MA):

FCC+david+ortizI have written before about the place sports play in the mental landscape of Bostonians, and how devastating the Marathon bombing was at the time. Ortiz’s remarks hit exactly the right note, and would have been far less effective without the “fucking.” It was the right word at the right time, and the fact that he has not repeated it, although prodded to do so by Erin Andrews right after the World Series victory, as well as by David Letterman on his talk-show, indicates that Papi is aware of that fact.

The point had not been to be vulgar, of course, but vehement in the face of the recent outrages against the city. According to the OED, “fucking” is used as an intensifier, equivalent to the older “bloody” or the fuller “motherfucking,” and is attested as early as 1864. It’s still used in this intensifying way, and there not so long ago was a fairly amusing xkcd cartoon about “fucking” as intensifier that had a pleasing pseudo-Cartesian graph.

imagesNow, “fucking” does sometimes mean more than simple intensification of the word it happens to be modifying.  When Toronto mayor Rob Ford, in the notorious video released this week, screams in drunken rage, “I need fucking 10 minutes to make sure he’s dead …I’ll rip his fucking throat out,” he is NOT saying, “I need–please note just how much time–1o minutes to make sure he’s dead.  I’ll rip out his–and let me be emphatic about which body part I am referring to–throat.”  In both instances, “fucking” is not syntactically or grammatically emphatic, but instead simply indicates a very unpleasant aggression.

While there was an aggressive–or perhaps better, defiant–element to Ortiz’ remarks, however, his use of the word “fucking” was, above all, as an intensifying adverb, modifying the word “our.” In his assertion that Boston is “our fucking city,” he stressed the common cause he felt with the victims of the Marathon bombings and the pervasive sense of anguish all people in and around Boston felt in those days.  What I especially loved about this statement was the lack of the stereotypical Boston accent–the R of “our” was distinctly audible–and Ortiz’ palpable Dominican pronunciation of “city” as “cee-tee.”  Boston has not always been a place very welcoming to minorities, and that has been nowhere more evident than in its sports history. But this past April, Big Papi pushed all that to one side to make his world and ours all one.

What more can you say?  With one brilliant sentence, he hit it out of the park.

o-DAVID-ORTIZ-facebook

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About Uncomely and Broken

I teach Latin and Greek at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Boston, Language & Etymology, Sports & Games. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Regarding “Our F***ing City”

  1. timtrue says:

    Don’t use it unless you have no other choice, I say. So there’s a time and place as Papi reminds us. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever have the guts to say it from a pulpit.

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