FIGHTIN' WORDS

The feud between Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines is now more brutal than ever -- but has it already gone too far?

"F.U.T.K."

Four little letters, emblazoned across Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines' T-shirt during their ACM Awards performance.

Now, what could those letters possibly mean?

Some charitably guessed "Friends United in Truth and Kindness." A Chicks spokesperson claimed it stood for "Freedom, Understanding, Truth and Knowledge." The night after the show, Toby Keith claimed not to know what it meant. Funny thing, because for most observers, those letters could only mean one thing -- an offensive insult from Natalie directed straight at Toby.

The T-shirt message was taken as the latest salvo in a war of words -- and pictures, and, now, abbreviations -- that's been going on for nearly a year. Politically and philosophically divided, Natalie and Toby have been butting heads since last September, when she shared her unfavorable opinion on his flag-waving, chest-beating smash "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)."

The notorious shirt seems to have been her revenge on Toby for having shown audiences on his spring tour a huge digitally doctored photo depicting Natalie with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The spunky Chick did not appreciate the suggestion that she sympathized with a murderous villain, and apparently decided to send Toby a message.

Toby's fans immediately responded in kind by creating "F.U.D.C." T-shirts -- they've become a staple of his concerts, and many were seen at this year's Fan Fair. Toby himself was dismissive about the T-shirt incident, which some speculated was the reason he left the ACM show too early to accept his Entertainer of the Year trophy. "If y'all think she's done, you're crazy," he said. "Stuff comes out of her blowhole daily."

Even as Toby struck back at Natalie, he 'fessed up to liking the Chicks' tunes. "I think it's too bad for the other two that it has to be what it is," he said, "because they do make great music."

Ironically, the feud began because Natalie didn't care for Toby's music -- specifically, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," with its famous terrorist-baiting line We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way. "I hate it," she declared last August. "It's ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant."

Toby responded by insulting Natalie's own tunesmithing ability. "You've got to be in my league as a songwriter before I'll even respond to you," he said.

The dispute simmered on a low boil for a while – until March 10. It was on that day that Natalie -- who had sung with the Chicks at George W. Bush's gubernatorial inauguration -- made her now-infamous remark from a London stage: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." That single sentence ignited a furor, with radio stations banning the Chicks' music, fans destroying their CDs and everyone in sight weighing in on the matter -- including President Bush himself.

Read more about Toby and Natalie in the current 8/05/03 "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!

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