The F Word

There’s a new word going around: it has four letters and begins with F. It’s banned in schools, and, these days, pretty much expurgated from the workplace as well. Lawrence and his friends have taken it up with great enthusiasm since finding it on the internet where it presides over the home page of a massively popular website. It is, of course, ‘Fail’.


The Fail Blog features the sort of photos and videos ? of a man trying to de?ice his roof with an iron, for example, or a JCB lifting a huge statue and dropping it ? that make you wonder how humanity has evolved this far. It is naturally highly amusing and one of the reasons I have not vacuumed my study, walked round the Lake District or learned Italian.

And, with the help of Lawrence, his friends and indeed all teenagers, it has brought about the rehabilitation of the F?word.
“Fail”, he says when I open the milk and some of it spurts onto the counter; “Fail, Dad!” when Peter joins in with the iPod and Lydia puts her hands over her ears. “Fail” when your lips get tangled and you tell them to ‘blush their teeth’. It is becoming even more popular than the dreaded ‘like’.

Even sheltered kids who’ve never heard it love that word, because it’s ideal for that stage of your life when you still believe it’s possible to get everything right. Until you try to earn a living, have children or attempt anything that basically involves leaving the house, you can envisage a world without error.

The irony is that Lawrence doesn’t even need it. He already corrects us about every tiny thing, including glitches in pronunciation that even an elocution teacher with OCD would let go.
On his last school Open Day, he got dressed then took off his tie and blazer and untucked his shirt. The impression was faintly unsettling, as of someone in the City who had lost his job and might be found along the Embankment, asking passers?by if they could spare a few shares.
“What is it?” he said when I scrutinised him.
“Not for an Open Day, I said. “You either need to tuck your shirt back in, or totally change.”
“‘Totally’ change?” he said, with the tone of incredulity that accompanies everything he’s said to me since 2008.
“Yes.” I fixed him with my death stare. “You could totally change into someone less sarcastic.”
You don’t expect a twelve year?old to care so obsessively about how one should speak. Why doesn’t he mumble at the floor like normal boys of his age? Somehow I have spawned a very pedantic child.
“Can’t think how,” says Peter.
“My mother is pedantic, so it must have skipped a generation.”
It was she who once reminded me, mid?argument, that peanuts are not nuts, but ‘adventitious rootlets’. That’s the sort of thing I’m up against.
But I’m precise, which is different. I simply criticise genuine mistakes. When I’m Queen, cafes will be banned from putting ‘paninis’ on their menus, and Radio 4 will automatically stop transmitting if an interviewee refers to the ‘nuculer deterrent’. By contrast, adults over thirty who accidentally say,
“Bring me your homework book” instead of “homework diary” will be spared. And they certainly won’t be subjected to taunts of ‘Fail!’
Meanwhile, I can’t wait for the children to shove off and start engaging with the Real World a bit more, so they can find out how incredibly many opportunities life provides for being flawed.
On the other hand, it’s good they’re still inmates of my despotic regime because I can continue to wield some power over them.”
I need some cheese,” says Lawrence, appearing on the stairs one night. “Because we learned in Science that you can’t sleep if you’re hungry.”
“Yeah? Remind me to have a word with your Science Teacher. Oh, and did he also mention that you can’t sleep if your mother is yelling, really loudly:

“Fail,” I add ? just to see how it feels.

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