Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Origin and Meaning of Fuck

Well. In our fortnight of dirty words blogs my wonderful co-bloggers have covered a variety of words and phrases. I hope you’ve been following along. Because today I am going to talk about the origin ad use of the word “fuck.”
It is perhaps one of the most interesting words in the English language today. Of all the English words beginning with f, fuck is the single one referred to as the "f-word". It's the one magical word. Just by it's sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love.
Fuck, as with most of the other words in English, has arrived from Germany. Fuck from German's "fliechen" which mean to strike. In English it folds into many categories. For instance as a transitional verb, "John fucked Shirley". As an intransitive verb, "Shirley fucks".
It's meaning isn’t even always sexual. In modern usage, fuck and its derivatives (such as fucker and fucking) can be used in the position of a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. There are many common phrases which make use of the word, as well as a number of compounds incorporating it, such as motherfucker and fuckwit.
It is frequently used as an adjective such as John's doing all the fucking work. Or as part of an adverb—"Shirley talks too fucking much" or an adverb enhancing an adjective; Shirley is fucking beautiful.  (Shirley obviously gets around!) It can be used as a noun, "I don't give a fuck". Or part of a word, "abso-fucking-lutely" or "in-fucking-credible". Or as almost every word in a sentence: "fuck the fucking fuckers!". (My personal preference!) As you can see, there aren't many words with the versatility such as the word fuck.
So where did it come from, this flexible, adaptable word? There are lots of theories.
In ancient England a person could not have sex without the consent of the King (unless you were in the Royal Family). When anyone wanted to have a baby, they got consent of the King who gave them a placard. They hung it on their door while they were having sex. The placard had F.*.*.*. (Fornication Under Consent of the King) on it. Or so history relates.
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.
The word's use is considered obscene in social contexts, but may be common in informal and familiar situations. 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) unpleasant circumstances or people in an intentionally offensive way, such as in the term motherfucker, one of its more common usages in some parts of the English-speaking world.
Fuck has a very flexible role in English grammar, which stems from its vulgarity - the more vulgar a word is, the greater its linguistic flexibility. Linguist Geoffrey Hughes found eight distinct usages for English curse words, and fuck can apply to each. For example, it fits in the "curse" sense ("fuck you!") as well as the "personal" sense ("You fucker"). Its vulgarity also contributes to its mostly figurative sense, though fuck is used in its literal sense to refer to sexual intercourse, its most common usage is figurative- to indicate the speaker's strong sentiment and to offend or shock the listener.
Most literally, to fuck is to copulate, but it is also used as a more general expletive or intensifier. Some instances of the word can be taken at face value, such as "Let's fuck," "I would fuck her/him," or "He/she fucks." Writing erotic romance I used the word more times than I can count. Probably because my characters are frequently copulating (fucking!) The more I write the more immune I become to the negative connotations of the word, although I often call my villains motherfuckers.
But I leave you with a last thought here, as you debate how comfortable you are with the word. One of my sources included a paragraph that stated in Puritan-heavy New England sexual intercourse was most definitely restricted to married couples, male/female only. For those who copulated outside that narrow boundary the word F.U.C.K came to mean “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.”
So take your pick. Personally I think carnal knowledge, lawful or otherwise, is great fun and wonderful to write about. what about you?


  1. Thanks for the enlightening exposition on what has become (in my opinion) a rather overused term! It has rather lost its shock value, in my opinion. In my work, I use it sparingly (though I certainly describe it a good deal!)

  2. Well, howdaya like that!
    And I though 'fuck' was coined in New Jersey!

  3. Years ago when an ex-student of mine spent a year living in the Barcelona region of Spain, she sent me letters detailing her difficulties, including the fact that they speak a unique dialect of Spanish that she was unfamiliar with but had to learn in a hurry. She said she got really tired of being groped while in public, ie, on the bus, on trains, and even just walking down the street. (As everyone else did, she learned to cross the street when Salvidor Dali was strolling around, because he had a tendency to do very weird things unexpectedly...who knew?)

    She complained to a local male who was a friend, and asked him what she should say to make the groping stop. Without hesitation he said, "Tell them 'Fuck you!'" When she pointed out that was English, he laughed and said, "Believe me, everyone knows what that means!"

    There's a town in England that's named "Fuck". Seems they can't keep their town signs, because the tourists not only want to have their pictures taken in front of the signs, but they keep stealing them!

    I prefer to use it as an insult, because to me when describing intercourse it suggests no emotional investment on the part of anyone involved...but then that might just be my interpretation.


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