Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Fuck, there is no word like it

  • It’s one of the most recognized English words, all over the world.
  • It has tremendous grammar versatility as it can be used as a verb, adjective, adverb and noun, to name a few.  See YouTube reference here.
  • The same word can be used to describe pain, pleasure, hate and love.
  • And finally, of all the words in English that start with the letter “F”, it’s the only one that is referred to as the “F-word.”

That’s right, the word is Fuck, F-U-C-K.

I said it.  I typed it, and I hope you aren’t offended.

You see it’s necessary to point out the offensiveness of this word right away.  Despite its common use, fuck is a very strong and profane word in the English language that can offend easily and/or give a (negative) indication of your character, if you care.  Most English-speaking countries censor the word on television and radio.  The American Heritage Dictionary notes that many see the word as vulgar, improper and utterly taboo, and Wikipedia repeats that the word is highly offensive in the modern English-speaking world.

A study once done with the British public concluded that fuck was the third most severe profanity in the English language, right after one of its compound forms Motherfucker.  Use your imagination on what you think was number one.

What has suprised me is the use of the word among non-native English speakers and even more surprisingly among people who don’t speak much English at all!  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some use of the word on Facebook for example.  A recent example comes from a fellow American living in Argentina who went to a birthday party of her daughter’s friend.

  • At a birthday party today, Ann’s 5 year old Spanish-speaking friend says “F*!& You” to me. After my initial shock, I try to explain that it’s not a nice thing to say and then it is her turn to look shocked. Is this a result of the unedited English songs on the radio here? Is it completely harmless for a kid her age or should I make a big deal of it? I am going to freak out when it comes out of my child’s mouth.

There are many legends on the origin of the word, including two common explanations deriving from the acronym F.U.C.K:

Fornication Under Consent of the King: During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, towns were trying to control the population and required couples to get royal permission to have children.  Once the king granted them permission, they would then place a sign with the acronym “F.U.C.K” on their house to be visible form the road.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge:  Many centuries ago this was the name of a legal offense for adultery or for out-of-wedlock and/or underage sex.  This was also the name of Van Halen’s third album.

In actuality, these are only myths about the word.  I know, it makes it far less interesting.

The real origin of the word is from cognates of Germanic languages, some saying from the German word frichen, meaning to strike.

  • German frichen (to strike)
  • Dutch fokken (to breed, to strike, to beget)
  • Norwegian fukka (to copulate)
  • Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate)

Fuck in all its forms is still considered very vulgar, so be careful using it if you don’t fully understand what you’re saying.  All that being said, use of the word is becoming more and more accepted.  In 2005 the Canadian Press handbook added the infamous four-letter word and now considers it commonplace.  This year the term “F-Bomb” was officially added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary after having first surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago!

Fuck, there is no word like it.

Quick grammar practice if you dare:

  • John ______________ Nancy.  (Transitive verb)
  • John’s doing all the  ______________ work.  (Adjective)
  • John talks too  ______________ much.  (Adverb)
  • I don’t give a  ______________. (Noun)
  • What the ______________ are the words that stand for ____ ____ ____! (Acronym)

Fuck

 

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