The decline is a matter of shifting taboos, says Jean Aitchison, the Oxford professor of language and communication... "In the last century, it was religious swearing that upset people," she says. "Then, in the mid-20th century, sexual swearing. But these days people get far more upset about politically incorrect language: nigger, and even mad, are quite taboo. "
The class issue remains an awkward one for fuck's supporters. The classier the accent, the more endearing (and figurative, rather than aggressive) it somehow sounds. Hugh Grant carried it off with aplomb (and a plum) in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and when a BBC Radio 3 announcer recently let slip a fuck on air, it caused little stir; the same station's drama output is a secret treasury of fucks. Yet when football manager Graham Taylor used it 32 times in a Cutting Edge documentary, it went down rather badly - especially with the popular newspapers, which remain squeamish about any word that might unsettle readers; the Sun even avoids "orgasm". Most non-broadsheets, when it is unavoidable, opt for f**k, which lets them, as Jones puts it, be "daring and prissy simultaneously".
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