Good day to you, Jon Stewart. I never thought my first Dear Jon letter would explode with expletives, but ever since you, puckish fake newsman, hit what used to be called the small screen with your volcanic potty mouth and flagrant disregard for FCC regulations, you managed to disable just about every known profanity while making one in particular your own satirical signature. Motherfucker. That’s right, motherfucker. No, I’m not calling you a motherfucker, not yet, just pinpointing the word you have milked, mimed, memed, maimed, and mainstreamed into a four-syllable hipster punchline.

When a Shake Shack mommy gets cheddar instead of muenster: Motherfucker! When a student stumbles upon a hard SAT question: Motherfucker! When a salesman bags a new account: Motherfucker! When a late-night cable host with 14 comedy writers wants to blend rage and glee, rebellion and humor: Motherfucker! That’s you, motherfucker. You may not have been ground zero for motherfuckermania, but you sure were instrumental in it becoming an airborne contagion.

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Motherfucker is so yesterday that everyone says it now. Catholic school girls and court-appointed lawyers and H&R Block accountants have no problem uttering motherfucker. Lions Club members roar motherfucker every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Tony motherfuckers not named Soprano toss around motherfucker like made men. At least when Tony said motherfucker, someone was about to get hurt. Bad. But no more. Stick an Action News microphone in the face of a passer-by and it’s motherfucker this and motherfucker that, like some locker-room tirade. Only, paradoxically, professional athletes are the only motherfuckers who pay a penalty for using motherfucker.

Oh, my dear Jon, you who have driven a stake through the dark pulsating heart of poor motherfucker and killed it so dead for the rest of us that we are scavenging pellmell for a newer, cruder vulgarity. Motherfucker used to have fury and Freud and Greek mythology and dissonance and street-cred and incest and insult and enough nasty to raise eyebrows and lower booms. But you have scrubbed it clean, popularized it a point of ultimate glossary assimilation. The wicked cache is gone. Motherfucker is barely a cuss word any more; it’s a send-up of a motherfuckin’ cuss word, a parody of all that was once odious and repugnant and taboo. You have made a silk word from a sow’s mouth, dressed our dirtiest hog in Basquiat bluejeans and Sarah Palin pink, shipped it to Roget’s abbatoir, and extruded some verbal equivalent of a Jimmy Dean sausage, a spicy but digestible snack served at room temp to mixed company.

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A decade ago, dear Jon, no writer could get away with all the aforementioned motherfuckers, not in a headline, not in the body of a letter; a blue pencil would’ve twisted them into motherhumpers or maybe mothertruckers in the hands of a country boy. Yet motherfuckers now wash over respectable readers like refreshing April raindrops, glistening jewels from the heavens. There is a preciousness to this hypermotherfuckertude, a wink, a nod, a lingua franca. Motherfucker is unofficially D.O.A. No one has the words to shock the in-laws or flutter the dovecotes or hotfoot the hoi polloi; no one knows how to get a little cheap attention in this brave new motherfuckertopia.

And the motherfuckerization of the nation sits on your nice Jewish Jersey childhood doorstep like a fallen mezzuzah. You have dumped perfectly functional obscenities into the Mirriam-Webster Toxic Waste Site. Goddammit? Don’t make me laugh. Sonuvabitch? A squirt cousin of motherfucker. Cocksucker? Safe sex. Bullshit? Fertilizer. Cunt? All right: Cunt still has a bawdy ring and feels good in the mouth, what with that hard K opening and sharp final T, but even that word lost some of its licentious luster ever since Eve Ensler put it on tour and let it speak its mind. One could argue that outside of Great Britain, cunt is more provocative than motherfucker, even though we all know that cunt doesn’t cover half the waterfront that motherfucker once did.

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Motherfucker used to get people shot, Jon. The first citation in the O.E.D. is from 1889, when a murderer defended himself on the grounds that the deceased called him a motherfucker. Okay, it was in Texas, but still, motherfuckerphobia was a national illness, from pool halls to family rooms, in high society and low. In 1948, Norman Mailer’s dialogue in The Naked and the Dead was dialed down to mother-fuggers. (When Mailer met Dorothy Parker at a book party, she said, “Oh, you must be the young man who can’t spell fuck.”) Stephen Sondheim could spell it, but his gang couldn’t sing it: The Jets were stuck with “ever mother-lovin’ street” in West Side Story.

A single stanza from Amiri Baraka’s 1960’s poem “Black People!” was all you needed to know about the power and the glory of motherfuckerdom:

All the stores will be open if you say

the magic words. The magic words are:

Up against the wall mother fucker

That last phrase became the inspiration and calling card of an anarchist art group called Up Against the Wall Mother Fuckers, or UAW/MF. The Black Panthers and Weather Underground and Yippies were not far behind. And while they all aimed to maim the status quo, UAW/MF was praised by Abbie Hoffman as “the middle class nightmare—an anti-media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed.” (The word motherfucker has yet to appear in the pages of the New York Times.)

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So, Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz, you have pulled off one of the great feats in television history, right in front of our ears and eyes: You have converted beelzebub into everyman. What a trick! What a dick! How did you pull it off? Genius? Dumb luck? The glorious unintended consequences of censorship, cracking open the bottle they so wanted to keep corked? In the first segment of a quotidian Daily Show, you can drop mofobombs like a lexicon Luftwaffer over London and then politely chat up Dame Judith Dench. You can declare the Middle East a motherfucker of a clusterfuck and then confabulate with King Abdullah II of Jordan or Fawzia Koofi, Afghan activist. You bounce motherfuckers off the wall even as the redoubtable Jimmy Carter waits in the wings to talk about curing diseases in Africa. Viewers get accustomed to the easy mix of dishonorable slurs and honorable guests, comfortable seeing Malala Yousafzai or Bishop Tutu washed ashore in the wake of such motherfuckology. Guests don’t mind at all. You read their books and do all your homework. Your quick wit and intellection saves the day, even as your questions can editorialize (a la Bill O’Reilly) or filibuster (a la Charlie Rose) or lick boots (taste good, Jimmy Fallon?). Add a nice tie and a good haircut and all those motherfuckers are more balm in Gilead than stench in Denmark.

Even Fox News, your nemesis and punching bag, complains not about the color of your patois, but the liberal content of your character. If critics don’t balk at the language, if clergy raises no ruckus, who among us dares throw the first stone? Not Tommy John, not a muckraker nor a millennial nor Nancy Pelosi. Heck, grandmothers watch The Daily Show with little ones in tow, and then buy your best-seller, America (The Book), to read to the kiddies at beddy-by time: “Inhabitants of the 13 colonies were loyal subjects of the British crown—resourceful, dedicated and as the Third Duchess of Kent was fond of saying, ‘Some tea-drinkin’ motherfuckahs.’ In fact, whenever the subject of the New World was mentioned, the Duchess could always be counted on for a wistful head-shake and a hearty ‘Motherfuckahs love that motherfuckin’ tea.’” (Italics added. Why not?)

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Only you can enfold motherfucker into family values. You, dearest Jon, the most trusted man in news (by the most untrusting generation). You, dear friend of John Q. Proletariat. You, arch enemy of injustice and pomposity. You, the only man in America who, when
J.P.Morgan Chase was fined $13 billion for its part in the mortgage meltdown—and said, in effect, hey, no biggie, we have $28 billion stashed away for a rainy day—only you could look into the camera, right at Jamie Dimon, and exclaim delightedly, “Guess what? It’s raining, motherfucker!

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Somewhere along the way, with a nudge from the FCC, you realized that motherfucker was like the perfect child of yesteryear: best seen and not heard. Adorable when not audible. The muting of fucker made an unexpected mime of you and amateur lip-readers of us all. That f is a voiceless, labiodental, fricative phenom requiring you to press your top teeth against your bottom lip, bite down a bit, force out some air, pause to impregnate, and we could all see fucker coming a mile away. What a phonic one-two punch—mother got our attention and the muffled fucker knocked us out. Consequently, you could say motherfucker without saying it, and we could hear motherfucker without hearing it. Audiences, like nature, abhor a vacuum, so we happily filled the edited gap in our mind’s ear. We the people were responsible for the full articulation of motherfucker.

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Eliminating the hard-C sound of fucker was key. We tend to associate that guttural consonant with malevolence: Ku Klux Klan and concentration camps, crack and caliphates, kill, kike, cunt, suck, cock block, Kardashian.

The fear of the FCC made motherf!@*er keener and softer. The censors were the only ones not in on the joke; their aural motherfuckerectomy failed, and motherfuckeroma metastasized from sea to shining sea. They became your best friends, along with the sound editors and all those silences where fucker used to be. And your smiling insistence on that steady beat of half-edited motherfuckers helped make you a seamless, riotous cross-stitch of Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Swift. Never have so many motherfuckers been uttered with so much purpose and compassion, especially when petitioning for veterans’ benefits or compensation for first responders.

Where does your exit leave us? Apres le deluge, quoi? Qui? We be motherfuckerless children, Jonny Stew. Bereft. There is no sublime substitute for motherfucker, or its variants or spoonerisms. My personal preference, cocksuckinmotherfucker, was annihilated long ago when that blonde Baldwin brother snarled, “Give me the fuckin keys you fuckin’ cocksuckinmotherfucker” in The Usual Suspects. Everyone in the lineup laughed. Criminals giggled. Baldwin had pushed it over the top.The whole cocksuckinmotherfucker thing was over for me. From that moment on, straight-ahead motherfucker became my stand-by, my go-to, my hammered finger, until you, Dr. Jon S. Liebowitz, innoculated the nation with your homeopathic treatment: a nightly tincture of motherfucker for 16 years.

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Pigfucker works on occasion. My friend Levy spits out pigfucker whenever he’s really pissed, and that has a nice debauched tone, but I’m not sure if it’s up to (or down to) the task. Whether non-consensual swine sex is equal to maternal incest depends on your therapist’s training, Freud Farms or Reich Ranch. In the end, pigfucker is Levy’s own private Iowa, and I shan’t squat in his sty. So what vulgarity do I bark when someone veers into my lane because they’re busy texting? What does the nation scream when our elected officials lie, cheat, and monitor our every word? Motherfucker is a greeting now, motherfucker is a bourgeous aside. Adios motherfucker is a cocktail ordered by suits at fancy watering holes after work on Wall Street.

But look who I’m talking to. You know all this, Jon . You did all this. You put mother on the air and fucker in our heads. Why should you worry? You’re retiring. You have better things to do. Have fun. You’ve earned it. Don’t give us a second thought.

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Go, be a big-deal Hollywood director. Go have coffee with your landsman, Jerry Seinfield. Or go on the road with Bruce. Write another “hystorical” textbook and do play-by-play for the blankety-blank Mets. Visit with David Letterman and share “worst guest” stories. (I trust Judith Miller up there thanked you for her new anus.) You will not pass Go, will not collect $200, will not go to jail for committing motherfuckercide, even though you surely polished off a most cherished and vile linguistic heirloom, and left us searching for a decent replacement for a most indecent word. Go. Enjoy.

You will be missed. Daily. And not just for spreading motherfuckers like a scatological Jon Appleseed, but because you were, in a world turned tapsalteerie, the baddest motherfucker of them all.

Sincerely yours,

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Bruce Buschel writes for a variety of sites, platforms, and publications. He watches television in New York City, but never the Yankees. No Twitter, Tumblr, or Tinder.

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