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Here’s why Boston University had the f-bomb in a trademark application for a COVID-19 initiative

The expletive is in the name of a new student-run campaign that has the school's blessing

A Boston University campaign called "[F-bomb] It Won't Cut It" was launched this week. It was created by students and approved by campus officials.
A Boston University campaign called "[F-bomb] It Won't Cut It" was launched this week. It was created by students and approved by campus officials.[F-Bomb] It Won't Cut It

What the . . . heck?

A Boston University trademark application for a phrase to promote COVID-19 safety on campus was turning heads online Tuesday for its use of a glaring expletive.

According the Patent and Trademark Office’s database, the Trustees of Boston University applied last week to secure the term “[F-bomb] It Won’t Cut It.”

The rhyming slogan is meant to encourage “safe and smart actions and behaviors for college and university students in a COVID-19 environment,” the application said.

But as chatter about the catch phrase picked up steam this week, and social media accounts connected to it began to emerge, school officials said there was good reason for the salty language and clarified why the university’s name was attached.

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“This is a student-run campaign that has the support of the university,” a BU spokeswoman said in a statement. “For technical reasons, the university had to register the mark.”

A lawyer for a Washington, D.C., firm first pointed out the expletive and the submission on Twitter Tuesday morning.

“Boston University filed a trademark on August 6th for: [F-Bomb] IT WON’T CUT IT,” tweeted Josh Gerben, the founder of Gerben Law Firm. “Interesting choice for a public service announcement.”

Gerben’s discovery was shared by a sports-business analyst, Darren Rovell, whose 2 million Twitter followers brought significantly more attention to the slogan.

While BU’s name was on the trademark application, “[F-bomb] It Won’t Cut It” is actually the brainchild of a team of eight BU communications students, said Hailey McKee, a second-year graduate student and the project’s public relations manager.

The “raw, relatable” public health campaign, which had a soft launch Sunday, is designed to encourage students to practice safe and smart behavior — and not be careless — as the university gears up for an unprecedented fall semester, McKee said by e-mail.

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“Our slogan is a powerful phrase that sparks a reminder for students to make safe choices at decision points each day, because saying ‘F-it’ to responsible protocols won’t keep us on campus,” McKee said.

In a phone interview, McKee and Hannah Schweitzer, the campaign’s project manager and strategist, said school officials approached a group of students in early June and asked them to come up with a campaign for COVID-19 precautions that would grab their peers’ attention.

“Pretty much BU realized that the best way to encourage students to follow COVID-19 protocols is when a message is coming from students,” said Schweitzer, 21. “We speak in students’ language; we know what protocols most students are not going to follow and ignore.”

The student group pitched ideas in July. But it was the “F-it” proposal that officials seized upon, much to the surprise of those who created it.

“We were pretty shocked they went with this edgy campaign,” Schweitzer said. “But they went with it.”

She said the fact the school chose something potentially controversial showed “BU really cares about the community and they will take every measure to make sure that everyone is doing their part.”

Kenneth Elmore, BU’s associate provost and dean of students, said the idea was well executed, and officials are “incredibly supportive of it.”

“Right now, we need direct,” he said. “And I’m really glad they’re being direct and also owning the messages as their own.”

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Schweitzer and McKee said the campaign will focus on topics such as partying, dating, wearing face masks, living in shared campus housing, COVID-19 testing, and coronavirus myths.

McKee said what makes the slogan effective is that it’s not a “finger-waggy, authoritarian yell,” but instead a reminder in student-speak not to become complacent and ignore precautions.

“When you hear this phrase, you know right here and now I need to think about what I’m doing,” McKee said.

The advisories will be posted on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. The group will also be putting up stickers and signs around campus throughout the fall, and teaming up with so-called Internet influencers and campus brand ambassadors to help spread the message.

As of Tuesday, the campaign had racked up more than 1,000 followers on Instagram, where the group posted urgent reminders that ignoring state and city guidelines on COVID-19 could cost students the luxury of enjoying a regular college life.

“This semester, we can’t afford to say ‘[expletive] it’ to the small rules,” one post read, “because they lead to bigger consequences. Let’s stay on campus this semester‼️”

Schweitzer and McKee said that while the campaign is just ramping up — the full launch is later this month — the group is hoping the project will be relatively short-lived.

“We’re prepared to have this campaign run through the fall semester,” McKee said. “Hopefully, ideally, we won’t need it so much next semester, because maybe we’ll all be smart and hopefully COVID numbers will go down.”

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Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.