Aeons ago, when newspapers were printed on paper and was a young Bay Area boy, I used to open up the San Francisco Chronicle and read Herb Caen’s column.
Yes. I was an odd little boy.
I remember one column in particular, in which Herb talked about one of the local Chinese restaurants playing softball against the SFPD in a charity event. The restaurant had t-shirts printed up for its team players. On the shirts were some characters in Chinese script. When Herb asked them what the Chinese words meant, he was told they translated as “No effing butter!”
Though this went straight over my little pre-teen head (on several levels), I was still smart enough to recognize a punch line when I read one. So I showed it to my dad.
“What does ‘effing’ mean?”
Once he stopped laughing, he tried to figure out how to answer my question. “You know how when Grandma gets mad,” he said, wiping away tears. “And she always says ‘Gee-Dee’ instead of the… other words?”
“It’s like that, but with an F.”
Oooooooohhhhhh. My little brain whirled. I knew exactly what he meant, knew exactly the word he spoke of. But I wasn’t supposed to know that word. But Dad obviously thought I did know the word. So…
I still didn’t get the joke, but I knew what “effing” meant.
From that day to this, whenever I encounter a word with “eff” in it, my brain automatically tries to replace the “eff” with “the other word.”
Ineffable. Effacement. Effusive. Coefficient.