Suddenly I beheld either a remarkable cultural event or a major personal teachable moment, or both.
Late on election night, I focused on the laptop screen as I knocked out an online column on the evening’s returns for the morning edition.
I scarcely listened to the background noise. Beto O’Rourke, a big winner of the evening if officially a narrow loser in the Texas race for the U.S. Senate, was fast-talking through a fiery concession speech via telecast on MSNBC.
Suddenly I thought I heard O’Rourke tell his supporters that he was “so blanking proud” of them, except the word I thought I heard wasn’t “blanking,” but the “f-word,” in its modifying variety.
I’d call it a participle, meaning a verb turned into an adjective by adding “-ing,” but I don’t think the word as he used it has anything remotely to do with the actual activity reflected in the verb comprising its first four letters.
“Blanking,” as he used it, is a generic modifier in its own standalone right. It means very, or extremely, or especially, or of such an amount and magnitude as to transcend normal high amounts and deep magnitudes.
For example: Saying “I really adore yellow roses” may seem inadequate for relating one’s rapt passion for yellow roses. But saying “I blanking love yellow roses” perhaps begins to convey the unquantifiable depth by which one holds yellow roses uncommonly dear.
I waited for MSNBC to cut away from O’Rourke’s address. I heard anchorman Brian Williams say he was sorry, but that, on election night, the network can’t possibly know when an “f-bomb” may be coming.
So, I had heard correctly, and was taken aback, not by the word, which I haven’t myself uttered for minutes. I was taken aback by the word’s usage in a public political address, apparently not by slippage, but design.
I took a moment to put on Twitter that O’Rourke’s presidential candidacy might have suffered a setback by his use of the word.
“I was thinking the exact opposite,” promptly replied Matt DeCample, longtime press aide to former Gov. Mike Beebe.
“A generational difference,” observed local Democratic regular Pat O’Brien of my reaction and DeCample’s.
Within an hour, the replies had turned unpleasant as my comment got retweeted about the universe. I was called old, a coot, a codger, a prude, an idiot, even a Republican.
What was happening—it became abundantly clear—was partly generational and partly counter-Trumpian.
Baby boomers spent decades watching television without hearing any form of the f-word during any kind programming, much less political speaking. Our music was plenty sexual—rock ’n’ roll is about sex, mainly, or totally, especially as it’s stolen from the blues—though not by direct language, but implication.
Beto’s young political base is more accustomed to, and comfortable with, the word. The word doesn’t jar in public utterance. The word has no residual association with a private act or an obscenity or vulgarity or profanity.
What it does is connect and enthuse.
The word means that O’Rourke really, really loved his hardworking supporters—to such an extent that no other word could begin to convey the emotion as well.
That it was a word jarring an old-codger newspaper columnist made it all the more perfect.
O’Rourke insists he’s not running for president, though his strong showing in Texas, of all places, ought to commend him straight to a Democratic ticket in desperate need of energy and connection and pizzazz.
And I’m reminded that then-Vice President Joe Biden, famously verbose, got overheard on a microphone telling then-President Barack Obama that the passage of the Affordable Care Act was a “bleeping big deal.”
I do believe we may see therein the making of a blanking Democratic ticket.
Finally, I can’t tell you how many times I was told that “blanking” is mundane in a modern world in which the president of the United States talks of grabbing women by the you-know-what and speaks with everyday crudeness about people and places—“bleepholes,” he said, though he didn’t say bleep.
What we have here—as a cultural movement and personal teachable moment—is generational change combining with Trumpian human devolution.
A few more years at this rate and there’s no telling what we’ll be saying.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.