Did Gary Carter Invent the "F-Bomb"?

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 14 2012 10:49 AM

Did Gary Carter Invent the "F-Bomb"?

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Gary Carter in 1986

Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is out today, and it contains a handful of zeitgeisty new words and phrases, among them sexting, flexitarian, energy drink, and life coach. The one that caught my eye, however, is f-bomb—not because of the word itself, but because of its purported origins. Apparently, the earliest usage the dictionary's editors uncovered came from Gary Carter, in a 1988 Newsday story about the late, great catcher who made his mark primarily with the Expos and Mets. (He also played with the Dodgers and Giants.)

That Newsday story is not online, but it is available on LexisNexis. It was written by Steve Marcus and headlined "Carter Thrives as Pinch Hitter." Here's the paragraph that is now a part of lexical history:

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."
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It's fitting, I suppose that a player who had stopped cursing would introduce f-bomb into common parlance. Someone who generally refrains from profanity is probably more likely to use such a profanity-avoiding phrase. And a converted non-swearer is also, perhaps, more likely to recognize the awesome power of that particular four-letter word, and thus to verbally grant it metaphorically explosive powers.

In any case, I'm happy to see Gary Carter, who died of cancer last year at the age of 57, show up in the dictionary. The Mets lost that game in Pittsburgh, by the way: Rick Reed shut out the Mets over 8 innings and Jim Gott earned the save. Jose Lind scored the only run in the 4th, on a groundout; he had singled, stolen second, and advanced to third on a throwing error by Gary Carter.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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