From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fuck is an English word that, as a verb, fundamentally means "to have sexual intercourse with". Its use is generally considered censurable and offensive in most formal circles, but may also be rather common or expected in certain situations or social groups.
It is unclear whether the word has always been considered vulgar, and if not, when it first came to be used to describe (often in an extremely angry, hostile or belligerent manner) negative or unpleasant circumstances or people in an intentionally offensive way, such as in the term "motherfucker", one of its more common usages.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the ultimate etymology is uncertain, but that the word is "probably cognate" with a number of native Germanic words with meanings involving striking, rubbing, and having sex. See futuere.
Flen flyys and freris
The usually accepted first known occurrence is in code in a poem in a mixture of Latin and English composed some time before 1500. The poem, which satirizes the Carmelite friars of Cambridge, England, takes its title, "Flen flyys", from the first words of its opening line, Flen, flyys, and freris (= "Fleas, flies, and friars"). The line that contains fuck reads Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk. Removing the substitution cipher (here, replacing each letter by the next letter in alphabetical order, as the English alphabet was then) on the phrase "gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk" yields non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli, which translated means, "They are not in heaven because they fuck wives of Ely". The phrase was coded likely because it accused some Church personnel of misbehaving; it is uncertain to what extent the word fuck was considered acceptable at the time. (The stem of fvccant is an English word used as Latin: English medieval Latin has many examples of writers using English words when they did not know the Latin word: "workmannus" is an example.) (In the Middle English of this poem, the term, wife still was used generically for woman.)
John le Fucker
A man's name, John le Fucker, is said to be reported from AD 1278, but the report is doubtful: an email discussion on Linguist List says:
- "This name has been exhaustively argued over ... The "John le Fucker" reference first appears in Carl Buck's 1949 Indo-European dictionary. Buck does not supply a citation as to where he found the name. No one has subsequently found the manuscript in which it is alleged to have appeared. If the citation is genuine and not an error, it is most likely a spelling variant of "fulcher", meaning soldier."
- Þonne syndon þa gauolland þas utlandes into Bexlea in hiis locis qui appellantur hiis nominibus: on Berna hornan .iii. hida, on Wyrtlesham .i., on Ibbanhyrste .i., on Croghyrste .viii., on Hrigce .i., on Gyllingan .ii., on Fuccerham 7 and on Blacanbrocan .i., on Ikelesham .iii.;
- Then the tax-lands of the outland belonging to Bexley are in these places which are called by these names: at Barnhorne 3 hides, at Wyrtlesham [Worsham farm near Bexhill ] 1, at Ibbanhyrst 1, at Crowhurst 8, at (Rye? The ridge north of Hastings?) 1, at Gillingham 2, at Fuccerham and at Blackbrook [may be Black Brooks in Westfield village just north of Hastings ] 1, at Icklesham 3.
The placename Fuccerham may or may not be related to the verb "fuck", which in Anglo-Saxon would have been fucian = "to fuck", ic fucie = "I fuck".
The word has probable cognates in other Germanic languages, such as German ficken (to fuck); Dutch fokken (to breed, to strike, to beget); dialectal Norwegian fukka (to copulate), and dialectal Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate) and fock (penis). This points to a possible etymology where Common Germanic fuk– comes from an Indo-European root meaning "to strike", cognate with non-Germanic words such as Latin pugnus "fist". By reverse application of Grimm's law, this hypothetical root has the form *pug–. In early Proto-Germanic the word was likely used at first as a slang or euphemistic replacement for an older word for intercourse, and then became the usual word for intercourse.
Yet another possible etymology is from the Old High German word pfluog, meaning "to plow, as in a field". This is supported in part by a book by Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations and Symbolisms of the Libido, in which he discusses the "primitive play of words" and the phallic representation of the plough, including its appearance on a vase found in an archaeological dig near Florence, Italy, which depicts six ithyphallic (erect-penised) men carrying a plow.
The original Indo-European root for to copulate is likely to be * h3yebh– or *h3eybh–, which is attested in Sanskrit यभति (yabhati), Russian ебать (yebat'), Polish jebać, and Serbian jebati, among others: compare the Greek verb οἴφω (oíphō) = "I have sex with", and the Greek noun Ζέφυρος (Zéphyros) (which references a Greek belief that the west wind Zephyrus caused pregnancy).
Via Latin or Greek
- Other possible connections are to Latin fūtuere (almost exactly the same meaning as the English verb "to fuck"); but it would have to be explained how the word reached Scandinavia from Roman contact, and how the t became k. From fūtuere came French foutre, Catalan fotre, Italian fottere, Romanian futere, vulgar peninsular Spanish follar and joder, and Portuguese foder. However, there is considerable doubt and no clear lineage for these derivations. These roots, even if cognates, are not the original Indo-European word for to copulate, but Wayland Young (who agrees that these words are related) argues that they derive from the Indo-European *bhu– or *bhug– ("be", "become"), or as causative "create" [see Young, 1964]. A possible intermediate might be a Latin 4th-declension verbal noun *fūtus, with possible meanings including "act of (pro)creating".
- A derivation from Latin facere = "to do", "to make" has been suggested.
- Greek phyō (φυω) has various meanings, including (of a man) "to beget", or (of a woman), "to give birth to". Its perfect pephyka (πεφυκα) can be likened to "fuck" and its equivalents in other Germanic languages.
One reason that the word fuck is so hard to trace etymologically is that it was used far more extensively in common speech than in easily traceable written forms. There are several urban-legend false etymologies postulating an acronymic origin for the word. None of these acronyms were ever heard before the 1960s, according to the authoritative lexicographical work The F-Word, and thus are backronyms. In any event, the word fuck has been in use far too long for some of these supposed origins to be possible. Some of these urban legends are that the word fuck came from Irish law. If a couple were caught committing adultery, they would be punished "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge In the Nude", with "FUCKIN" written on the stocks above them to denote the crime. Another theory is that of a royal permission. During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, towns were trying to control populations and their interactions. Since uncontaminated resources were scarce, many towns required permission to have children. Hence, the legend goes, that couples that were having children were required to first obtain royal permission (usually from a local magistrate or lord) and then place a sign somewhere visible from the road in their home that said "Fornicating Under Consent of King", which was later shortened to "FUCK". This story is hard to document but has persisted in oral and literary traditions for many years; however, it has been demonstrated to be an urban legend.
The word "fuck" did not come from any of the following:
- "File Under Carnal Knowledge"
- "Fornication Under the Christian King"
- "Fornication Under the Command of the King"
- "Fornication Under the Consent of the King"
- "Fornication Under Carnal/Cardinal Knowledge"
- "False Use of Carnal Knowledge"
- "Felonious Use of Carnal Knowledge"
- "Felonious Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"
- "Full-On Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"
- "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"
- "Found Under Carnal Knowledge"
- "Found Unlawful Carnal Knowledge"
- "Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" (referring to the crime of rape)
Rise of Modern Usage
Though it appeared in John Ash's 1775 A New and Complete Dictionary, listed as "low" and "vulgar", and appearing with several definitions, Fuck did not appear in any widely-consulted dictionary of the English language from 1795 to 1965. Its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary (along with the word cunt) was in 1972.
Perhaps the earliest usage of the word in popular music was the 1938 Eddy Duchin release of the Louis Armstrong song "Ol' Man Mose". The words created a scandal at the time, resulting in sales of 170,000 copies during the Great Depression years when sales of 20,000 were considered blockbuster. The verse reads:
We believe) He kicked the bucket,
(We believe) Yeah man, buck-buck-bucket,
(We believe) He kicked the bucket and ol' man mose is dead,
(We believe) Ahh, fuck it!
(We believe) Buck-buck-bucket,
(We believe) He kicked the bucket and ol' man mose is dead.
The liberal usage of the word (and other vulgarisms) by certain artists (such as James Joyce, Henry Miller, Lenny Bruce, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in their Derek and Clive personas) has led to the banning of their works and criminal charges of obscenity.
After Norman Mailer's publishers convinced him to bowdlerize fuck as fug in his work The Naked and the Dead (1948), Tallulah Bankhead supposedly greeted him with the quip, "So you're the young man who can't spell fuck." In fact, according to Mailer, the quip was devised by Bankhead's PR man. He and Bankhead didn't meet until 1966 and did not discuss the word then. The rock group The Fugs named themselves after the Mailer euphemism.
The science fiction novel That Hideous Strength (1945), by C.S. Lewis, includes lines of dialog with the word bucking used the same way as fugging would be in Mailer's novel, published three years later.
If you see Kay,
Tell him he may.
See you in tea,
Tell him from me.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger featured an early use of fuck you in print. First published in the United States in 1951, the novel remains controversial to this day due to its use of the word, and offers a blunt portrayal of the main character's reaction to the existence of the word, and all that it means.
The Australian vaudeville comedian Roy Rene once had a comedy 'skit' where he would act with another person and would write the letter 'F' on a blackboard (on stage) and then ask his co-actor: 'What letter do you see' to which he would reply: 'K'. Mo would then say: 'Why is it that whenever I write F you see K?'
The first use of the word fuck on British television came on November 13, 1965 on the satirical show BBC-3 (no relation to the present channel of that name). The theatre critic Kenneth Tynan declared, apropos of nothing, that "I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word 'fuck' would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden." Kenneth Tynan was soon-after fired for his free use of the word.
One of the earliest mainstream Hollywood movies to use the word fuck was director Robert Altman's irreverent antiwar film, MASH, released in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War. During the football game sequence about three-quarters of the way through the film, one of the MASH linemen says to an 8063rd offensive player, "All right, bud, your fuckin' head is coming right off." Also, former Beatle John Lennon's 1971 release "Working Class Hero" featured use of the word, which was rare in music at the time and caused it to, at most, be played only in segments on the radio. In 2007, some 36 years later, Green Day did a cover of Lennon's song, which was censored for radio airplay, with the "Ph.." sound being audible but then phased out.
Former Saturday Night Live cast member Charles Rocket uttered the vulgarity in one of the earliest instances of its use on television, during a 1980 episode of the show, for which he was subsequently fired.
Comedian George Carlin once commented that the word fuck ought to be considered more appropriate, because of its implications of love and reproduction, than the violence exhibited in many movies. He humorously suggested replacing the word kill with the word fuck in his comedy routine, such as in an old movie western: "Okay, sheriff, we're gonna fuck you, now. But we're gonna fuck you slow..." Or, perhaps at a baseball game: "Fuck the ump, fuck the ump, fuck the ump!" More popularly published is his famous "Filthy Words" routine, better known as "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television."