Definitions

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History of the word 'fuck'

In the modern English-speaking world, the word 'fuck' is often considered highly offensive. Most English-speaking countries censor it on television and radio. A study of the attitudes of the British public found that fuck was considered the third most severe profanity and its derivative motherfucker second. Cunt was considered the most severe (Hargrave, 2000). Some have argued that the prolific usage of the word fuck has de-vulgarized it, an example of the "dysphemism treadmill". Despite its offensive nature, the word is common in popular usage.

The highly profane term remains a taboo word to many people in English-speaking countries, while others feel the word remains inappropriate in social etiquette when used by a male in the presence of women. The word also carries a sacrilegious connotation to some. Many religious people oppose the use of profane, vulgar, and "curse" words which they see as offensive to a deity. Finally, it is considered highly offensive to utter the word in the presence of children, who thus may be robbed of their "innocence." Non-English-speaking cultures tend to recognize the word's vulgarity. However, it generally is not censored as frequently in those forums. Proof of the more relaxed attitude about this English word in non-English countries was very publicly visible on billboards around the downtown of Paris, France in the early 1990s. They featured a woman sticking her tongue out in defiance, along with the slogan "Préservatifs Fuck le SIDA" ("Condoms fuck AIDS").

The Canadian Press now considers the word to be commonplace and has added usage advice to the Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide.

Modern usage

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."

Other uses are dysphemistic: The sexual connotation, usually connected to masturbation (in the case of "go fuck yourself" or "go fuck your ass") is invoked to incite additional disgust, or express anger or outrage. For example, "Fuck that!", "Fuck no!", or "Fuck you!".

By itself, fuck is usually used as an exclamation, indicating surprise, pain, fear, disgust, disappointment, anger, or a sense of extreme elation. In this usage, there is no connection to the sexual meaning of the word implied, and is used purely for its "strength" as a vulgarity. Additionally, other uses are similarly vacuous; fuck (or variations such as "the fuck" or "fucking") could be removed and leave a sentence of identical syntactical meaning. For example, rap music often uses the word fucking as an emphatic adjective ("I'm the fucking man") for the word's rhythmic properties. Insertion of the trochaic word fucking can also be used as an exercise for diagnosing the cadence of an English-language word. For example, the word in-fucking-credible sounds acceptable to the English ear, and is in fairly common use, while incred-fucking-ible would sound very clumsy (though, depending on the context, this might be perceived as a humorous improvisation of the word). While neither dysphemistic nor connected to the sexual connotations of the word, even the vacuous usages are considered offensive and gratuitous, and censored in some media. For example, "None of your fucking business!" or "Shut the fuck up!" A common insult is "Get fucked," which in a non-offensive context would translate as "get stuffed".

In the last usage, the word fucker is used as a term of endearment rather than antipathy. This usage is not uncommon; to say "you're one smart fucker" is often a term of affection. However, because of its ambiguity and vulgarity, the word fucker in reference to another person can easily be misinterpreted. Though fuck can serve as a noun, the fucker form is used in a context that refers to an individual. Normally in these cases, if fuck is used instead of fucker, the sentence refers to the sexual ability of the subject (for example, "He's a great fuck!"), although confusingly in a minority of occasions the word "fuck" can hold the exact same meaning as "fucker" (e.g. when preceded by an adjective: "You're a pretty clever fuck.").

Related to fucker is the word motherfucker. Sometimes used as an extreme insult--an accusation of incest--this term is also occasionally used to connote respectful awe. For example, "He's a mean motherfucker" does not mean "He's abusive, filthy and copulates with his mother," but "He's someone to be afraid of." In this context, some gang members might even describe themselves as "motherfuckers." Motherfucker can be used as a rhythmic filler in hip hop, rap or dance music. The word "fuck" is used in many forms of music. A good example of this is in The Crystal Method's song "Name of the Game." At about 3:30 into the song, there's a dramatic buildup and then a sudden pause. To fill the space, an audio sample of someone exclaiming motherfucker (or, as it's pronounced, "mutha fucka") is injected, filling the gap with perfect rhythm. Perhaps motherfucker's rhythmic compatibility is due to its quadrisyllabic pronunciation, making it a natural fit for popular music that is written in 4/4 metre. Also contributing to its use in aggressive, high-energy music is the fact that it includes a hard "k" sound in its third syllable, making it easy to exclaim, particularly when pronounced as "mutha fucka." Despite these rhythmic qualities, motherfucker has not become as accepted in English usage as its root fuck. A more succinct example of the flexibility the word is its use as almost every word in a sentence. The phrase "Fuck you, you fucking fuck!" is a memorable quote from the movie Blue Velvet from 1986, and is still used today as heard in Strapping Young Lad's "You Suck" from their 2006 album The New Black. Another example is, "Fuck the fucking fuckers!"

Because of its vulgar status, the word fuck is usually restricted in mass media and barred from titles in the United States. In 2002, when the controversial French film Baise-moi (2000) was released in the USA, its title was changed to Rape Me, rather than the literal Fuck Me, though this may have been for effect. Similarly, the Swedish film Fucking Åmål was retitled Show Me Love.

Online forums and public blogs may censor the word by use of automatic filters. For example, Fark.com replaces the word fuck with fark. Others replace the word with asterisks (****) to censor it (and other profanities) entirely. To avert these filters, many online posters will use the word fvck. This particular alteration is in common usage at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where students use it in reference to the inscriptions on MIT's neoclassical buildings, in which the letter U is replaced by V. A typical coinage in this idiom would be "I'm fvcked by the Institvte." (Other less common spellings to cheat a censor are "fück" and "phuck.") Another way to bypass a word filter is to use leet (Fuck becomes F(_)c|< or |=(_)Ck to name a couple.)

The word fuck is a component of many acronyms, some of which—like SNAFU and FUBAR—date as far back as World War II. Many more recent coinages, such as the shorthand "WTF?" for "what the fuck?," have been widely extant on the Internet, and may count as examples of memes. Many acronyms will also have an F or MF added to increase emphasis, for example OMG (Oh My God) becomes OMFG (Oh My Fucking God).

Despite the proclaimed vulgarity of the word, several comedians rely on fuck for comedic routines. George Carlin has created several literary works based upon the word. Other comedians who use the word consistently in their routines include Denis Leary, Lewis Black, Andrew Dice Clay, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Dane Cook, and Sam Kinison.

Incidents on British Television

In 1965, the critic Kenneth Tynan was the first person to say fuck on BBC television, during BBC-3, a late-night live satirical talk show hosted by Robert Robinson, causing a furor and a short TV career for Tynan. (This incident was later immortalized by comedian Billy Connolly - himself no stranger to the "F-word" - in his song "A Four Letter Word".) The second person to use the word on British television was the commentator Peregrine Worsthorne in replying to a question over whether the public would care if a Government minister had shared a bed with two call girls.

The word's most infamous use was probably on 1 December 1976 when the word was pointedly used in an early evening show, during a live interview with the Sex Pistols. The presenter Bill Grundy, who it was claimed had encouraged the incident, was suspended as a result.

After the death of Graham Chapman, his televised eulogy was performed by John Cleese in which he said "Graham told me that he wanted me to be the first person on a televised eulogy to say Fuck" on British television and got away with it being uncensored.

In the Stephen Fry episode of the BBC's genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, Fry traced members of his family back to The Holocaust, prompting upsetting revelations and his use of the word. Prior to transmission, as is customary on the channel, the announcer warned viewers saying: "This programme contains one, we feel, entirely justified use of very strong language." Poring over historical documents, an emotional Fry said on camera, "Its… it's that fucking word again: Auschwitz."

Censorship

The films Ulysses and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (both 1967) are contenders for being the first film to use the word 'fuck,' although the word 'fucking' is clearly mouthed silently in the film Sink the Bismarck! (1960). Since the U.S. adoption of the MPAA film rating system, use of the word has been accepted in R-rated movies, and under the older rules, use of the word in a sexual way would automatically cause the film to be given an R rating. Later changes could allow for a maximum of three, non-sexual, strictly exclamatory use of the word in PG-13 movies, extreme example being the movies The American President and Nine Months (this is more of a guideline than a rule, however, since the MPAA states it has no strict rules on how a movie is rated).

In 1968, The Beatles' "White Album" had the word censored in their track "Revolution 9" in which band member George Harrison exclaims "So I joined the fucking navy and sailed to sea." Just two years later in 1970 fellow Beatle John Lennon successfully got the word past the censors on his song "Working Class Hero" with the lines "They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool, till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" and "You think you're so clever and classless and free, but you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." Since the 1970s, the use of the word fuck in R-rated movies has become so commonplace in mainstream American movies that it is rarely noticed by most audiences. Nonetheless, a few movies have made exceptional use of the word, to the point where such films as Good Will Hunting, Casino, The Last Detail, Menace II Society, The Big Lebowski, The Departed, Scarface (1983), Pulp Fiction, Blue Velvet, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, and Goodfellas as well as the HBO TV series The Sopranos are known for its extensive use. In the movie Meet the Parents, and its sequel Meet the Fockers, the main character's last name of "Focker" is a running joke (not to mention the fact that his first name is “Gaylord”). In the popular comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, it is the chief word, repeatedly uttered, during the opening five minutes. To many, one of the most humorous tirades demonstrating various usages of the word appears in the comedy, Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), where Steve Martin expresses his dissatisfaction in his treatment by a rental car agency. In several PG-rated movies, however, the word is used, mainly because at the time there was no PG-13 rating and the MPAA did not want to give the films R ratings; for instance, All the President's Men (1976), where it is used seven times; The Kids Are Alright (1979), where it is used twice; and The Right Stuff (1983), where it is used five times. Spaceballs (1987) is one of two anomalies in that it was rated PG after the 1984 introduction of the PG-13 rating, yet it includes Dark Helmet's line, "'Out of order'?! Fuck! Even in the future nothing works!" The other is Big (1988) which has the character of Billy asking Tom Hanks's character, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" In the PG-13 rated movie Soapdish (1991), Sally Field, played an aging soap opera actress. Appalled that her costume included a turban, she complained to her show's producer "What I feel like is Gloria fucking Swanson!" Also in the 1999 film "Galaxy Quest," Sigourney Weaver's character Gwen DeMarco is edited from the line "Well, fuck that!" to "Well, screw that!" The change was made to avoid a PG-13 rating, and the original line is obvious when reading her lips. Films edited for broadcast use matching euphemisms so that lip synching will not be thrown off. One televised version of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, for instance, had the actors dub in the words frick, Nubian, and melon farmer for fuck, nigger, and motherfucker, respectively. In similarly dubbed versions of Die Hard and Die Hard 2, Bruce Willis' catchphrase "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" is replaced by "Yippee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon" or "Yippee-ki-yay, Kemo Sabe." In the film The Big Lebowski, John Goodman's character repeatedly yells "This is what you get when you fuck a stranger in the ass" while trashing a car. It was infamously censored on television as "You see what happens when you find a stranger in the alps!" His character also repeatedly says to Steve Buscemi's character, "Shut the fuck up, Donny," or "Donny, shut the fuck up." When on television, "fuck" is censored with "hell."

In a similar vein, many stand-up comedians who perform for adult audiences make liberal use of the word fuck. While George Carlin's use of the word is an important part of his stage persona, other comedians (such as Andrew Dice Clay) have been accused of substituting vulgarity and offensiveness for genuine creativity through overuse of the word. Billy Connolly and Lenny Bruce were pioneers of the use of the word in their shows for general audiences. Recently, the hip-hop group Black-Eyed Peas' hit song "Don't Phunk With My Heart" was censored on many radio stations to "Don't Mess With My Heart", establishing a new trend toward eliminating all euphemisms for "fuck" as well as the word itself. James Blunt's first major song, You're Beautiful, featured the line "she could see from my face that I was fucking high" - this was censored to "flying high" for broadcasting purposes.

Usage in politics

See also Fuck#Use in politics.
In 1965, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson said to the Greek ambassador Alexandros Matsas when he objected to American plans in Cyprus, "Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows continue itching the elephant they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good."

During the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, during a speech in which he nominated the anti-Vietnam War candidate George McGovern, departed from his written text to say, "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn't have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." Many conventioneers, having been appalled by the response of the Chicago police to the simultaneously occurring anti-war demonstrations, promptly broke into ecstatic applause. As television cameras focused on an indignant Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, lip-readers throughout America claimed to have observed him shouting, "Fuck you, you Jew motherfucker." Defenders of the mayor would later claim that he was calling Senator Ribicoff a "faker" or a "fink." (When queried later by reporters as to what it was Daley had said, Ribicoff said it was "a four-letter word beginning with 'mother'".) Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau caused a minor scandal when opposition MPs stated he had told them to "fuck off" in the House of Commons in February 1971. Pressed by journalists, Trudeau later unconvincingly stated he may have said (or mouthed) "'fuddle duddle' or something like that" , a phrase which then took on a humorous connotation of that event for Canadians. A famous British usage of fuck comes from a 2001/2002 scandal at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, while Stephen Byers was the Minister. His press officer, Jo Moore, sent an email after the September 11, 2001 attacks suggesting it would be "a good day to bury bad news". As the scandal unravelled, Permanent Secretary to the Department, Sir Richard Mottram was widely reported to have said "We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever and we're all completely fucked." To British ears this was particularly amusing coming from someone so senior in the civil service.

In June 2004, United States Vice President Dick Cheney replied to criticism about Halliburton's role in the reconstruction of Iraq from Democratic senator Patrick Leahy with "fuck yourself". The media, and opposition parties were very quick to highlight the White House's stance on obscenities uttered in this manner, quoting their reaction to a similar outburst by John Kerry in December 2003. Ironically, Cheney's outburst occurred on the same day that the Defense of Decency Act was passed in the Senate.

In February 2005, British media chief Alastair Campbell accidentally sent the email "Just spoke to trev. think tbwa shd give statement to newsnight saying party and agency work together well and nobody here has spoken to standard. Posters done by tbwa according to political brief. Now fuck off and cover something important you twats!" to the Newsnight journalist Andrew McFadyen, instead of a party official. Trev. refers to Trevor Beattie the boss of TBWA.

See also

Further reference

  • Hargrave, Andrea Millwood (2000). Delete Expletives? London: Advertising Standards Authority, British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission.
  • AmishDonkey.com History of the F-Word

Books

  • Jesse Sheidlower, The F Word (1999) ISBN 0-375-70634-8. Presents hundreds of uses of fuck and related words.
  • Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, OUP, 1995, ISBN 0-19-431197-X
  • Philip J. Cunningham, Zakennayo!: The Real Japanese You Were Never Taught in School, Plume (1995) ISBN 0-452-27506-7
  • Wayland Young, Eros Denied: Sex in Western Society. Grove Press/Zebra Books, New York 1964.

False etymology

  • Snopes Urban Legend Archive entry
  • About.com Urban Legend and Folklore article
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