Charles Krauthammer

 WASHINGTON -- I am sure there is a special place in heaven reserved for those who have never used the F-word. I will never get near that place. Nor, apparently, will Dick Cheney.

     Washington is abuzz with the latest political contretemps. Cheney, taking offense at Sen. Pat Leahy's imputation of improper vice-presidential conduct regarding Halliburton contracts in Iraq, let the senator know as much during a picture-taking ceremony on the floor of the Senate. The F-word was used. Washington is scandalized.

     The newspapers were full of it. Lamentations were heard about the decline of civility. The Washington Post gave special gravitas to the occasion, spelling out the full four letters (something that it has done only three times previously). Democrats, feeling darned outraged, demanded apologies. The vice president remained defiant, offering but the coyest concession -- that he ``probably'' cursed -- coupled with satisfaction: ``I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it.''

     The Federal Communications Commission just last year decreed that the F-word may be used as an adjective, but not as a verb. Alas, this Solomonic verdict, fodder for a dozen Ph.D. dissertations, was recently overturned. It would not get Cheney off the hook anyway. By all accounts, he deployed the pungent verb form, in effect, a suggestion as to how the good senator from Vermont might amuse himself.

     Flood-the-zone coverage by investigative reporters has not, however, quite resolved the issue of which of the two preferred forms passed Cheney's lips: the priceless two-worder -- ``(verb) you'' -- or the more expansive three-worder, a directive which begins with ``go.''

     Though I myself am partial to the longer version, I admit that each formulation has its virtues. The deuce is the preferred usage when time is short and concision is of the essence. Enjoying the benefits of economy, it is especially useful in emergencies. This is why it is a favorite of major league managers going nose-to-nose with umpires. They have only a few seconds before getting tossed out of the game, and as a result television viewers have for years delighted in the  moment when the two-worder is hurled, right on camera. No need for sound. The deuce was made for lip reading. 


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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