The rich history of the F-bomb.
Warning: Offensive language ensues below. If that offends you, you might want to skip this entry.
The English language, as with all languages in general, is subject to the existence of many vulgar words – words considered obscene and offensive for their meaning, often censored and used only in aggression or between close friends. Yet as time goes by, through the use of media and the blinding speed with which social interaction takes place nowadays, vulgarities are used far more often, and have become commonplace. Sure, they’re still censored, but how many of us really haven’t heard them all a few hundred times before, especially in today’s youth. I don’t have a problem with vulgar words – they’re words with certain meanings pinned onto them that society deems unacceptable, but I can insult someone just as or even far more grievously without having to use them.
Despite that, however, I say fuck the censorship. At least right now. Because today, I’ll be writing about the speculative etymology behind the F-bomb itself.
You see, I’ve always wondered – and I’m sure a few others have as well – as to where the word fuck came from. I’ve heard a rumor once before that it was Irish law that lead to the public use of the word, as it once stood for “Fornication Under Consent of King“. I found that very unlikely, but have never bothered to check.
The truth of the matter is that there is no actual straight lineage of words to detail the conception of the word – but there are many hints and probable etymological origins, buried deep in the ancient double entendres of dead European languages – most suspecting of which seem to be the older Dutch and German tongues.
The word itself seems to have first come into the English language sometime in the late 15th century, but its likely, seeing its many possible origins, that the word could be traced back even earlier in time, although no earlier records have been found yet. The first use of the word in English language was in code – although the reason it was coded was most likely not because of the offensiveness of the word, but rather the taboo subject of the line it was mentioned in. The Latin/English poem “Flen, flyys“, a satire on Carmelite friars in Cambridge (hence the title, taken from the first line “Flen, flyss, and freris” – Fleas, flies and friars), contains a line which goes: “Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk“. Now you may think to yourself – either the poem is written in English, Latin, and a derivative of ancient Mayan, or those last few words of the line were in code – and indeed they were. Taking the English alphabet as it was back then (back then the alphabet still had derivatives of Anglo-Saxon runes) and replacing each coded word with its previous letter in the alphabetic order would reveal the line to read: “Non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli“, which in turn translated to modern English essentially states that the friars are not holy, because they fuck the women of Ely (a place in Cambridge). While most of the line was Latin, the word in question, fvccant, was in fact English – it was common for authors to replace words they didn’t know in Latin with English. Yet the question remains – although this is perhaps the first recorded use of the word in its modern meaning, where did it come from?
The answer lies a while back, in Germanic and Scandinavian tongues. Fuck itself most likely came into the English language through words like “ficken“, German for “to fuck“, the Dutch “fokken“, which means “to breed“, and the Norwegian and Swedish “fukka” and “focka“, both of which mean “to copulate” (engage in sex). In turn, the Swedish “fock” also means penis, which may be traced further back to the simpler Germanic “fok“, which meant “to strike“.
Another etymological theory involves the plow and its Old High German verb “pfluog“. Now we can all see the joke in that – the plow, being an object fit for phallic representation, could have been used socially as an easily understood joke or analogy of “plowing into” a woman, as a plow would plow into “fertile soil”. Suggesting evidence was found in a dig in Florence, Italy, where a vase depicts 6 men with erect penises holding a plow. It isn’t too much of a stretch to then conclude that the word jumped from the Flemish, Dutch and German into the English language.
Amusingly, “fuck” and its derivatives can be used as a noun, adjective, adverb and verb, and its popularity has given rise to many compounded versions. Andrea Hargrave’s study of the British public in 2000, puts “fuck” at number three for being the most offensive vulgar word – right behind its compound offspring (or parent, depending on how you’d like your jokes) on number two – “motherfucker”. Number one is the as-of-yet still quite infamous “cunt”. Despite the growing commonplace status of the word “fuck”, it remains to be a firm taboo – although there is an amusing Hollywood policy that dictates that every PG-13 movie gets to drop one F-bomb. Just one. More than one would be detrimental to the audience and would impeach upon their sense of vulgarity. But one is fine.