The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, November 01, 2004

Yesterday evening I watched a five year old dancing in such excitement around a bonfire that the only words he could express his energy with were "Fuck! shit! willies! bum!"

I apologise in advance if you're reading this blog from an educational institution, and the following post provokes your net nannies to wipe the content, but the time has come to devote an entry to "fuck".

He wasn't trying to shock the adults (and the hippie liberal content of those congregated was such that we'd all have rather ignored it than draw attention to it by reprimand).

This morning, teaching the somewhat lary sixteen year old lads on the remedial Learn-How-To-Be-A-Builder-Because-We've-Already-Given-Up-On-You course (do excuse my cynicism, I mean Vocational course; do please attempt to ignore my dripping sarcasm for any programme that decides a child's future chances based on whether they were impossibly naughty at age fourteen), we finished the lesson with a five minute treat - which was intended to be in the form of freestyling on a tape recorder with a hand held microphone, and listening to the results.

Without exception, they found the new toy so quaint and so exciting that the only words they could bring themselves to shriek into the mike were 'fuck fuck fucking cunt fuck fuck'.

(Accompanied by a descriptive narrative which to spare your browser's history folder's shock, I'll not reproduce here.)

They weren't concerned about my response (these are social exclusion students who don't really worry about any adult's disapproval), so the word didn't signify a transgression. Yet it still contained the power to express their energy and excitement and involvement in what they were doing.

Watching a particular song in the musical Jerry Springer the Opera, a character trills for a good five minutes that his opponent should "fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fuh..."

"It was fascinating to see how much of the power of the word relied upon the explosive ending. The merely plosive softness of 'fuh' did not do the power inherent in the word justice, robbed it of its propensity to shock.

So, I wanted to find the source of that energy. Knowing the sheer age of the word, I signed into the work PC on my boss's username, and did a little digging. I'm surprised by how few of the meanings are sexual. Intensity seems to be what this old anglo saxon epithet allows us to feel.

fuck Audio pronunciation of "fuck" (fk) Vulgar Slang

v. fucked, fuckĀ·ing, fucks

v. tr.

1. To have sexual intercourse with.

2. To take advantage of, betray, or cheat; victimize.

3. Used in the imperative as a signal of angry dismissal.

v. intr.

1. To engage in sexual intercourse.

2. To act wastefully or foolishly.

3. To interfere; meddle. Often used with with.


1. An act of sexual intercourse.

2. A partner in sexual intercourse.

3. A despised person.

4. Used as an intensive: What the fuck did you do that for?


Used to express extreme displeasure.

Phrasal Verbs:

fuck off

1. Used in the imperative as a signal of angry dismissal.

2. To spend time idly.

3. To masturbate.

fuck over

To treat unfairly; take advantage of.

fuck up

1. To make a mistake; bungle something.

2. To act carelessly, foolishly, or incorrectly.

3. To cause to be intoxicated.

[Middle English, attested in pseudo-Latin fuccant, (they)
fuck, deciphered from gxddbov.]

Word History: The obscenity fuck is a very old word and has been considered shocking from the first, though it is seen in print much more often now than in the past. Its first known occurrence, in code because of its unacceptability, is in a poem composed in a mixture of Latin and English sometime 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," that is, "fleas, flies, and friars."

The line that contains fuck reads "Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk."

The Latin words "Non sunt in coeli, quia," mean "they [the friars] are not in heaven, since." The code "gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk" is easily broken by simply substituting the preceding letter in the alphabet, keeping in mind differences in the alphabet and in spelling between then and now: i was then used for both i and j; v was used for both u and v; and vv was used for w. This yields "fvccant [a fake Latin form] vvivys of heli."

The whole thus reads in translation: "They are not in heaven because they fuck wives of Ely [a town near Cambridge]."

Origins: Webster.

Fuck, verb hence noun, is a Standard English word classed, because of its associations, as a vulgarism. The derivative expletive Fuck derivative agent fucker and verbal noun and participial adjective fucking, except when literal (then, they are likewise vulgarisms), belong to low slang.

Fuck shares with cunt two distinctions: they are the only two Standard English words excluded from all general and etymological dictionaries since the eighteenth century and the only two Standard English words that, outside of medical and other official and semi-official reports and learned papers, still could not be printed in full anywhere within the British Commonwealth of Nations until late 1961.

That fuck cannot descend straight from Latin futuere (whence Old French-French foutre) is obvious; that the two words are related is equally obvious. That it cannot derive unaided from German ficken, to strike, (in popular speech) to copulate with, is clear; it is no less clear that the English and German words are cognates. 'To fuck' apparently combines the vocalism of futuere + the consonantism of ficken, which might
derive from fucken (only dubiously attested).

Now, Latin futuere is formed similarly to Latin battuere, to strike, hence to copulate with a woman. With both, compare Irish bot, Manx bwoid, penis; battuere, says Malvezin, is borrowed from Celtic and stands for bactuere; and futuere recalls the Celtic
root buc, a point, hence to pierce (malvezin); compare also Gaelic batair, a cudgeller, and Gaelic buail, English/Irish bualaim, I strike. Both Latin battuere and Latin futuere (compare Latin fustis, a staff, a cudgel: ? for futsis) could have got into Latin from Celtic, which, it is perhaps worth adding, had originally no f: basic idea. 'to strike', hence (of a man) `to copulate with'.

Nevertheless, the source probably long antedates both Latin and Celtic: a strikingly ancient etymology one is apparently afforded by Egyptian petcha, (of the male) to copulate with, the hieroglyph being an ideogram of unmistakably assertive virility. The Egyptian word has a close Arabic parallel.- A Mediterranean word?

Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Greenwich House (c) Eric Partridge MCMLVIII.