From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Motherfucker (euphemized as mofo or mf) is a vulgarism which, in its most literal use, refers to one who participates in sexual intercourse with someone's mother.
The term gained traction during World War II, originally amongst African American GIs, and was applied to American soldiers (black, white, or otherwise) in war-torn Europe who would trade food, money, or anything of value for sex with desperately poor or starving French and German women. Many of these women were housewives whose husbands had been conscripted away, killed, or imprisoned, leaving the women to support the couple's children alone.
In the last 60 or so years, the term has entered the popular slang as a term of derision ("That guy is a real motherfucker, you know?"). More recently, it has been used as an indicator of extraordinary intensity, not necessarily in a derisive sense, but usually still carrying some implications of harshness ("I fell asleep out in my lawn chair, yesterday, and got a motherfucker of a sunburn.") or intimidating awesomeness ("That dude, he's one baaaad motherfucker!").
Like many widely used offensive terms, motherfucker has a large list of derivative terms. Motherhumper, motherfugger, mothersucker, motherlover, you motha, mofo, motherflower, motherkisser and many more are sometimes used in polite company or to avoid censorship. The participle motherfucking is often used as an emphatic, in the same way as the less strong fucking. The verb to motherfuck also exists, although it is less common. Conversely, when paired with an adjective, it can become a term denoting such things as originality and masculinity.
Usually the word 'motherfucker' is used in place of a noun in a sentence, such as: That trig problem was a real motherfucker.
Often, the word does not actually imply that someone has had sex with another person's mother. Instead it is understood as a swear word, related to the usage of parent word "fuck".
The word is also well known to be used as a single word sentence describing something intense. For example if a person is told an incredible tale or description of an event they may respond with "Motherfucker" said slowly.
The word appears in George Carlin's Seven Words You Can't Say On Television. In one HBO special, he comments that at one point, someone asked him to remove it, since, as a derivative of the word "fuck," it constituted a duplication. He later added it back, claiming that the bit's rhythm doesn't work without it.
- The Complete Motherfucker: A History of the Mother of All Dirty Words by Jim Dawson (Feral House, 2009; ISBN 781932 595413) is a history of the word in black culture and in American literature, film, comedy and music.