I found the word, “f-bomb” in the Time magazine’s (March 20) article titled with “Why insults exist–and Why one man wants to end them” introducing philosophy professor, William B. Irvine’s latest book on gains and losses of insults - http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/03/20/qa-why-insults-exist-and-why-one-man-wants-to-end-them/#ixzz2OPuYu26f

It starts with a lovely joke and an agile ripost when a baldheaded guy was ridiculed by his friend, “Marc, your head feels as smooth as my wife’s ass,” and follows:

“To come up with a good insult requires a certain degree of intellect, and if those things start disappearing, then the nature of the insults are going to change. - -We live in an increasingly narcissistic society where people really are quick to unleash insults and are easily hurt by insults directed their way. The really disappointing ones are those that just drop the f-bomb. That’s one level up from a barking dog.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word, f-bomb. Does this mean ‘f-word’? Is it interchangeable with 'f-word,' or it has extra meanings tantamounting to the figurative impact of N-bomb?


F-bomb does mean that someone used the F-word. I think originally it had implications that there was a big impact from the use ('good heavens, he dropped an F-bomb!!') akin to the impact of the actual H-bomb. But it's become so commonplace now that the two phrases are, in many situations, more or less interchangeable.

While folks can and do take that same precedent and use it for other words (ala Mitch's answer), my experience is that such uses are uncommon. Using S-bomb in place of the S-word or N-bomb in place of the N-word would likely be understood, but I don't think it happens often enough to become a 'trope'.

Incidentally, here is an article describing the origin of the phrase.

  • Thanks. The Daily News’ ‘The Origin of the F-bomb?” was informative as well entertaining as “It feels smooth as my wife’s ass” episode of the captioned Time article. – Yoichi Oishi Mar 24 '13 at 8:06

The 'X-word' is a trope for referring to anything said that will have a big splash, a big effect.

For example, "In the waiting room for he job interview we were all nervously discussing our credentials and one jerk dropped the H-bomb", meaning that he went to Harvard University (the source of the 'H') and that is too a huge weapon to throw around (arguably the best university in the US by far), totally making the rest feel like they had no chance to get the job.

The 'f-bomb' does mean the person used the word 'fuck'. Instead of saying boringly "that person used the f-word" one can relate the reaction people had to such strong profanity by saying "that person dropped the f-bomb".

It is not interchangeable with 'f-word' because you wouldn't say "dropped the f-word" or "said the f-bomb". 'Dropping the f-bomb' really means that it had a big emotional impact. Also, I've neer heard of the 'n-bomb' only the 'n-word'.

  • None of OED, CED and Merriam-Webster carries ‘N-bomb,’ but Readers English Japanese Dictionary at hand which is the most popular English Japanese dictionary in Japan defines N-bomb as 'neutron bomb.' Wikipedia defines N-bomb may refer to: 1.Neutron bomb 2.Nuclear weapon 3. N-word (euphemisms). Urban Dictionary defines it as a derogatory term used for African Americans when it said by people OTHER than African Americans. Google NGram doesn’t register N-bomb. – Yoichi Oishi Mar 24 '13 at 3:59

F-bomb refers to the use of the word fuck but isn't exactly the same as f-word. F-bomb implies the use of the swearword results in significant fallout.

For example, a public figure uses the word in a place they shouldn't have, and subsequently causes outrage, and/or public apologies. I'm familiar with the term from daytime radio, when a DJ refers to a guest (or sometimes themselves or another DJ) swearing, which would usually results in an immediate apology from the DJ to (attempt to) prevent complaints.

The term originates in baseball, where swearing can have a player thrown out of a game. The earliest known use is from Newsday in 1988. Via a 2004 post to American Dialect Society mailing list:

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."

Yale linguistics professor Laurence Horn commented:

this is interesting. I'd guess that most of the occasions on which I heard "f-bomb" were precisely in this context--discussing why a baseball player (or, occasionally, a basketball player) was ejected from the game (or, in basketball, why he--never she AFAIK--earned a technical foul). In baseball, this is sometimes referred to as "(uttering) the magic word". Alice, can you confirm my intuition on this?

Yale dialect researcher Alice Faber confirms, and notes f-bombs are almost "dropped":

Yeah, the "magic word(s)" is what gets you tossed from a baseball game. "Dropping an F-bomb (or an N-bomb)" is essentially "fighting words". So, dropping an F-bomb can get you tossed, and dropping an N-bomb earns retaliation of sorts. It's definitely my impression that the verb of utterance here is always "drop".

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