Once again, it's time for the word-lovin' folks at Merriam-Webster to add a few more selections to their growing collection of vernacular. This year, the word "F-bomb" will be included for the first time, along with sexting, energy drink, life coach, and 96 other entries today into its latest print edition.
But what caught our eye was the staff's research into F-bomb and how its popular usage came to be. It seems that the earliest example they could find was uttered in a newspaper article some 24 years ago by a certain New York catcher:
So who's responsible for lobbing F-bomb far and wide? Kory Stamper, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, said she and her fellow word spies at the Massachusetts company traced it back to 1988, in a Newsday story that had the now-dead Mets catcher Gary Carter talking about how he had given them up, along with other profanities.
But the word didn't really take off until the late '90s, after Bobby Knight went heavy on the F-bombs during a locker room tirade.
"We saw another huge spike after Dick Cheney dropped an F-bomb in the Senate in 2004," and again in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden did the same thing in the same place, Stamper said.
"It's a word that is very visually evocative. It's not just the F-word. It's F-bomb. You know that it's going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage," she said.
The Newsday article in question was published Aug. 11, 1988, in an otherwise unremarkable Mets notebook column by Steve Marcus. Nestled in there among tidbits concerning Mets pinch-hitting options and the players' first impressions of Wrigley Field's newly installed lights was a paragraph concerning Gary Carter and how an umpire had used profanity with him in a recent game. Here's what Marcus wrote:
Curses from an ump
Carter rarely uses profanity, so he was taken aback when umpire Greg Bonin leveled some on him in the seventh inning Monday night in Pittsburgh. Carter was called out on strikes and told Bonin he thought the pitch was outside. "He started cursing me and said I accused him of being a liar," Carter said. "After he started cursing, I walked away and I said, 'Why are you cursing at me?' He said, 'I talk like that.' I said, 'OK, guttermouth.' " Carter said he has been thrown out only twice in the majors, both times by Eric Gregg. "That was when I used to use the F-bomb."
And that, as far as the M-W folks are concerned, is why we all say "F-bomb" these days when we don't feel inclined to go the full fuck. Bonin, incidentally, retired in 2001 when his 18-year umpiring career was cut short by concussions. Carter passed away in February from brain cancer, but his legacy lives on, even in ways we never could've known.
'F-bomb,' 'sexting' land in Merriam-Webster dictionary [USA Today] h/t Jonah Keri