Where the F-Word Came From

By necessity, this one contains a bit of profanity. So you may or may not want to read through it first if you normally share these articles with humans of the particularly youthful persuasion. 🙂

wtfIn its various incarnations, the F-word can be a noun, verb, adjective, and even an infix. The Crescent wrench of the English language, the F-bomb has been adding emphasis, vulgarity and spice to our conversations for longer than anyone can remember.

Early History

Because fuck is the type of word that “wasn’t written in the kind of texts that have survived from Old English and Middle English,” it is difficult to trace it’s origins, although experts believe it is “ancient.”

Some claim that a man went by the name John le Fucker, as early as the 13th century, although the printed version that is generally ascribed as being first, is an attack on the piety of Carmelite friars from the 1400s:

Non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli. . .  [translated "They are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely . . . ]

William Dunbar, the Scottish poet known for his satirical works, is credited with first printing the F-word in English, sometime in the early 1500s:

Yit be his feirris [b[behavior]e wald have fukkit-

“Ye brek my heart, my bony ane [o[one]

Given Scotland’s early adoption of the word, and its distinct, initial spelling, many think it may be Scandinavian in origin:

Perhaps from a word akin to [t[the]orwegian dialectical fukka “copulate,” or Swedish dialectical focka “copulate, strike, push,” and fock “penis.”

Others point to the Middle English words fyke and fike, which meant “to move restlessly” as well as “flirt.” Another possible source is the Low German, ficken, which originally meant to scratch an itch, but later took on the vulgar sense.

BothFornication Under Consent of the King” and “[b[booked]b>for Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” have been put forward as the inspiration for the F-bomb, but, this is extremely unlikely as prior to the mid-20th century, while abbreviations were prevalent in text, pronouncing them as words was not something people typically did, being something of a very modern phenomenon. In fact, according to linguist David Wilton,

There is only one known pre-twentieth-century [E[English]ord with an acronymic origin and it was in vogue for only a short time in 1886. The word is “colinderies” or “colinda”, an acronym for the Colonial and Indian Exposition held in London in that year.

So with regards to things like Fornication Under Consent of the King” these are likely no more than “ingenious trifling.”

Parts of Speech

Verb

In addition to intercourse, the F-word has evolved to take on other meanings. One modern use of the verb form means to “cheat [o[or]crew,” and this traces its heritage to 1866 when a witness:

Swore in an affidavit that Mr. Baker told him he “would be fucked out of his money by Mr. Brown.”

Another variant verb usage is an expression of anger, which is first attributed to Mary Hamilton who, in 1836, challenged a group of her fellow beings “to go and fuck themselves.

Notably, the popular pastime of telling someone to fuck off dates to 1929, although “as a command to depart . . .[t[to]944.”

To ruin, spoil [o[or]estroy,” fuck up was first seen in 1916; it’s not clear, however, when its noun form, defined as a “bumbling, dismal failure,” came into being.

Adjectives

An apparently disgruntled monk was the first to write the adjective form, into a 1528 copy of Cicero’s De Officiis no less, when he complained about his boss: “fuckin Abbot.”

The popular modern variant of this, “fucking bitch,” was, apparently, coined in 1857:

A slaveholding doctor [h[had]hipped one of his slaves on Sunday. The woman “writhed under each stroke, and cried, ‘O Lord O Lord!'” The doctor . . . said “Hush you ******* b h [f[fucking bitch]will you take the name of the Lord in vain on the Sabbath day?”

Another popular adjectival use is “fucked up,” which means of unsound mind, either through intoxication or otherwise.

Expletive Infix

When properly placed, a good F-bomb in the middle of a word adds emphasis and color to the conversation. I was unable, however, to discern the origins of either un-fucking-believable or abso-fucking-lutely.

Nouns

Noun forms of the F-word date from at least the 1670s (aforementioned John aside) and refer to the act, as well as a sex partner (a good fuck).

An integral part of the invaluable and oft-used phrase “I don’t give a fuck,” this noun form traces its origins to a 1790 poem, where a father says to his son: “I’d not give – – – for all you’ve read.”

Interjections

Most if not all of the F-word variants can independently be employed as interjections, including the popular expression of disdain: “forget you.”

Fuck in the Media

The F-word has only become popular in print over the past few decades. In fact, at one time or another, both the U.S. (Comstock Act of 1873) and England (Obscene Publications Act of 1857) had made it illegal to print a “fuck.”

So reviled was it (at least on paper) that it was not found “in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965.”

In fact, when James Joyce released Ulysses in 1922, its racy content (including two F-bombs) kept it banned as “obscene” in the U.S. until 1933. Even 15 years later, when Norman Mailer submitted The Naked and the Dead, his publishers talked him into substituting fug for fuck – a prescient move on their part, given the variant’s popularity today.

Even in the 21st century, people are not free to give a fuck, at least on broadcast television and radio. Other media, including cable, satellite and the internet, are not so regulated, however, so there, you can say, stream or print, anything you fucking like.

Coup de Grace

Of all the word origins in this article, none can surpass the etymology of flying fuck, circa 1800, found in Thomas Rowlandson’s New Feats of Horsemanship:

Well mounted on a mettled steed

Famed for his strength as well as speed

Corinna and her favorite buck

Are pleas’d to have a flying fuck

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  • Tony Luxton

    It wasn’t always profane; it only became so when it became a faux pas to talk about sex in polite company. I remember, when I was a boy, you couldn’t say “bloody”, “damn”, or much less “Christ”; people were more religious then.

    Significantly, in these enlightened times, you can’t use the c-word, and the n-word is a complete no-no.

    • the F word started in ww1,when BritIsh soldiers were charged with rape
      the official charge was Forced Unwanted Carnal Knowledge…hence FUCK..

      • Kaya

        Did you even bother to read the article? The word “fuck” is much older than 1914. First recorded about 500 years older than 1914, actually. Try reading *before* commenting.

  • Glynn Symes

    Nah guys,

    Because of how long the word seems to have been around, my tale of the F word origins sounds more feasible than going back just to WW1.

    The populations in many lands in Europe were so reduced by the ravages of the Black Plague, the various monarchs who lived at the time decided that in order to replenish the human ‘stock’ there had better be an urgently required population explosion. To get the ball rolling, the order “Fornication Under Command of the King’ was issued. LOL