Holy F-Word, Batman:

Derek Muller notes that Justice Scalia's majority opinion in FCC v. Fox Television uses the term F-Word, with the F and the W capitalized. (It also uses S-Word, but that is a story for another day.) Any thoughts on why this was so, he asks?

Well, it looks like the FCC used this capitalization in its original decision, and the Second Circuit quoted it; Justice Scalia may have therefore followed the FCC's lead. (Note that generally the FCC commissioners' f-word capitalization patterns are mixed.) But that still leaves us with the question why the author of the particular FCC decision capitalized F-Word.

I can't answer the "why," but I too was intrigued, and found the following pattern in Lexis's US database (which covers many U.S. newspapers):

  • (caps("F-Word") and not allcaps ("F-Word")) and date(> 1/1/2005) finds 252 uses of F-Word, so capitalized -- but nearly of these are in titles of books, TV shows, and the like, where most words would be capitalized in any event. Thus, there are nearly zero non-title uses of F-Word.

  • nocaps("f-word") and date(> 1/1/2005) finds 1805 uses of f-word, so uncapitalized.

  • ("f-word" and not caps("F-Word") and not nocaps("f-word")) and date(> 1/1/2005) finds 2682 uses of "F-word."

Searching through court decisions yields roughly comparable ratios among the three options.

So "F-word" and "f-word" are roughly equally common in recent newspapers and in recent court decisions (with "F-word" slightly predominating), but "F-Word," outside titles, is extremely uncommon -- except apparently in some FCC decisions, and from there into the Supreme Court Reports.