Faculty Scholarship Digest

Christopher M. Fairman

 

Books

Christopher M. Fairman, FUCK: WORD TABOO AND PROTECTING OUR FIRST AMENDMENT LIBERTIES (Sphinx Publishing 2009).

This book follows Chris’ well-known 2007 law review article, and many of the reactions to that article underline the power of taboo that Chris analyzes here. The book defines taboo as “a proscription on behavior for a specific community in a specific context” and notes that every culture has taboo words — “things you’re not supposed to say.” Obviously, the word “fuck” falls into that category, and Chris details its origins (uncertain, put probably from as early as the 16th century), its two primary meanings ((i) copulation and, relatedly, cheating and exploiting and (ii) an emotional meaning with offensive force, used as an expletive but without independent meaning), its persistence (“not in spite of taboo but because of it”), and its force (taboo words trigger automatic, involuntary reactions). The book then turns to a thorough review of the law’s regulation of the use of the word, covering obscenity, fighting words, indecency, school speech, and workplace speech. Chris argues that the law may play a role in either fortifying or conquering taboo, and that on balance, legal regulation of the use of “fuck” has fortified the taboo, a result the book condemns as a broader threat to the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.