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Fuck is an English-language word, a profane word which refers to the act of sexual intercourse and is also commonly used to denote disdain or as an intensifier. Its origin is obscure; it is usually considered to be first attested to around 1475, but may be considerably older. In modern usage, the term 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 that employ the word, as well as compounds incorporating it, such as motherfucker.
- 1 Offensiveness
- 2 Etymology
- 3 Grammar
- 4 Early usage
- 5 Rise of modern usage
- 6 Modern usage
- 7 Censorship
- 8 Common alternatives
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
The word's use is considered obscene in social contexts, but is common in some 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. In the modern English-speaking world, the word fuck is often considered highly offensive. Most English-speaking countries censor it on television and radio. Andrea Millwood Hargrave's 2000 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. Fuck has become increasingly less vulgar and more publicly acceptable, an example of the "dysphemism treadmill", wherein vulgarities become inoffensive and commonplace. Fuck was included for the first time as one of three vulgarities in the Canadian Press's Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide in 2005 because of its increasing usage in the public forum. Journalists were advised to refrain from censoring the word but use it sparingly and only when its inclusion was essential to the story.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the ultimate etymology is uncertain, but that the word is "probably cognate" with a number of native Germanic words with meanings involving striking, rubbing, and having sex.
"Flen, flyys and freris"
The usually accepted first known occurrence is in code in a poem in a mixture of Latin and English composed in the 15th century. 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 ("Fleas, flies, and friars"). The line that contains fuck reads Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk. Deciphering the phrase "gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk", here by replacing each letter by the previous letter in alphabetical order, as the English alphabet was then, yields non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli, which translated means, "They are not in heaven, because they fuck wives of Ely". The phrase was coded likely because it accused monks of breaking their vows of celibacy; it is uncertain to what extent the word fuck was considered acceptable at the time. (The stem of fvccant is an English word used as Latin: English medieval Latin has many examples of writers using English words when they did not know the Latin word: "workmannus" is an example.) (In the Middle English of this poem, the term wife was still used generically for "woman.")
The word has probable cognates in other Germanic languages, such as German ficken (to fuck); Dutch fokken (to breed, to beget); dialectal Norwegian fukka (to copulate), and dialectal Swedish focka (to strike, to copulate) and fock (penis). This points to a possible etymology where Common Germanic fuk– comes from an Indo-European root meaning "to strike", cognate with non-Germanic words such as Latin pugno "I fight" or pugnus "fist". By application of Grimm's law, this hypothetical root has the form *pug–.
Yet another possible etymology is from the Old High German word pfluog, meaning "to plow, as in a field." This is supported in part by a book by Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations and Symbolisms of the Libido, in which he discusses the "primitive play of words" and the phallic representation of the plough, including its appearance on a vase found in an archaeological dig near Florence, Italy, which depicts six erect-penised men carrying a plow.
The original Indo-European root for to copulate is likely to be * h3yebh– or *h3eybh–, which is attested in Sanskrit यभति (yabhati), Russian ебать (yebat' ), Polish jebać, and Serbian јебати (jebati), among others: compare the Greek verb οἴφω (oíphō) = "I have sex with", and the Greek noun Ζέφυρος (Zéphyros) (which references a Greek belief that the west wind Zephyrus caused pregnancy).
There is a theory that fuck is most likely derived from Flemish, German, or Dutch roots, and is probably not from Old English roots.
Via Latin or Greek
There may be a kinship with the Latin futuere (futuo), a verb with almost exactly the same meaning as the English verb "to fuck". From fūtuere came French foutre, Catalan fotre, Italian fottere, Romanian futere, vulgar peninsular Spanish follar and joder, Portuguese foder, and the obscure English equivalent to futter, coined by Richard Francis Burton. However, there is no clear past lineage or derivation for the Latin word. These roots, even if cognates, are not the original Indo-European word for to copulate, but Wayland Young argues that they derive from the Indo-European *bhu– or *bhug– ("be", "become"), or as causative "create" [see Young, 1964]. A possible intermediate might be a Latin 4th-declension verbal noun *fūtus, with possible meanings including "act of (pro)creating".
Greek phyō (φύω) has various meanings, including (of a man) "to beget", or (of a woman), "to give birth to". Its perfect pephyka (πέφυκα) can be likened to "fuck" and its equivalents in other Germanic languages.
One reason that the word fuck is so hard to trace etymologically is that it was used far more extensively in common speech than in easily traceable written forms. There are several urban-legend false etymologies postulating an acronymic origin for the word. None of these acronyms was ever recorded before the 1960s, according to the authoritative lexicographical work The F-Word, and thus are backronyms. In any event, the word fuck has been in use far too long for some of these supposed origins to be possible. Some of these urban legends are that the word fuck came from Irish law. If a couple were caught committing adultery, they would be punished "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge In the Nude," with "FUCKIN" written on the stocks above them to denote the crime. A similar variant on this theory involves the recording by church clerks of the crime of "Forbidden Use of Carnal Knowledge." Another theory is that of a royal permission. During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, towns were trying to control populations and their interactions. Since uncontaminated resources were scarce, supposedly many towns required permission to have children. Hence, the legend goes, that couples that were having children were required to first obtain royal permission (usually from a local magistrate or lord) and then place a sign somewhere visible from the road in their home that said "Fornicating Under Consent of King," which was later shortened to "FUCK." This story is hard to document, but has persisted in oral and literary traditions for many years; however, it has been demonstrated to be an urban legend.
A different false etymology, first made popular on the radio show Car Talk, states that the phrase "fuck you" comes from the phrase "pluck yew" and relates the origins of fuck to the myth surrounding the V sign. This myth states that French archers at the Battle of Agincourt insulted the English troops' ability to shoot their weapons by waving their fingers in a V shape; after the English secured a landslide victory, they returned the gesture. The addition of the phrase "fuck you" to the myth came when it was claimed that the English yelled that they could still "pluck yew" (yew wood being the preferred material for longbows at the time), a phrase that evolved into the modern "fuck you".
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.
Its first known use as a verb meaning to have sexual intercourse is in "Flen flyys," written around 1475.
William Dunbar's 1503 poem "Brash of Wowing" includes the lines: "Yit be his feiris he wald haue fukkit: / Ye brek my hairt, my bony ane" (ll. 13–14).
The oldest occurrence of the word in adjectival form (which implies use of the verb) in English comes from the margins of a 1528 manuscript copy of Cicero's De Officiis. A monk had scrawled in the margin notes, "fuckin Abbot". Whether the monk meant the word literally, to accuse this abbott of "questionable monastic morals," or whether he used it "as an intensifier, to convey his extreme dismay" is unclear.
John Florio's 1598 Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes, included the term, along with several now-archaic, but then-vulgar synonyms, in this definition:
- Fottere: To jape, to sard, to fucke, to swive, to occupy.
Of these, "occupy" and "jape" still survive as verbs, though with less profane meanings, while "sard" was a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon verb seordan (or seorðan, <ON serða), to copulate; and "swive" had derived from earlier swīfan, to revolve i.e. to swivel (compare modern-day "screw").
While Shakespeare never used the term explicitly; he hinted at it in comic scenes in a few plays. The Merry Wives of Windsor (IV.i) contains the expression focative case (see vocative case). In Henry V (IV.iv), Pistol threatens to firk (strike) a soldier, a euphemism for fuck, while Othello (I.i) uses an even stronger euphemism, "making the beast with two backs."
A 1790 poem by George Tucker has a father upset with his bookish son say "I'd not give [a fuck] for all you've read". Originally printed as "I'd not give ------ for all you've read", scholars agree that the words "a fuck" were removed, making the poem the first recorded instance of the now-common phrase "I don't give a fuck". In 1837, the first instance of the phrase "go fuck yourself" or its variants was recorded when a woman who told a group to "go fuck themselves" was charged with the crime of obscenity. Another common figurative use of fuck ("to cheat, victimize, or betray") was first recorded in 1866, when an unnamed court witness swore to hearing another man saying he would be "fucked out of his money" by another man. Farmer and Henley's 1893 dictionary of slang notes both the adverbial and adjectival forms of fuck as similar to but "more violent" than bloody and indicating extreme insult, respectively.
Rise of modern usage
Though it appeared in English lexicographer John Ash's 1775 A New and Complete Dictionary, listed as "low" and "vulgar," and appearing with several definitions, 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.
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The modern usage and flexibility of fuck was established by the mid to late 19th century, and has been fairly stable since. 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 yourself in the ass"), is invoked to incite additional disgust, or express anger or outrage. For example, "Fuck that!", "Fuck no!", "Fuck off!", 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. The word fuck can also be used to express surprise and/or disbelief towards a given statement or a question, most often in the form of "does/is it fuck", however this usage is more common in British English.
Insertion of the trochaic word fucking can also be used as an exercise for diagnosing the cadence of an English-language word. This is the use of fuck or more specifically fucking as an infix, or more properly, a tmesis (see expletive infixation). 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). Abso-fucking-lutely and motherfucking are also common uses of fuck as an affix. 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." The word is one of the few that has legitimate colloquial usage as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, conjunction, exclamatory, noun and pronoun.
In another 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 exactly the 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 people (particularly young men) might even describe themselves as "motherfuckers." The word fuck is used in many forms of music, with motherfucker being used as a rhythmic filler in hip hop, urban music and some rock genres; examples include The Crystal Method's song "Name of the Game" and Turbonegro's "Don't Say Motherfucker Motherfucker". 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.
The word was used to induce stress during military recruit training and became a dominant element of an English military dialect identified by Tom Wolfe as Army creole. A succinct example of the flexibility of the word is its use as almost every word in a sentence. In his book, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Paul Fussell, literary historian and professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Pennsylvania, recounted
Once, on a misty Scottish airfield, an airman was changing the magneto on the engine of a Wellington bomber. Suddenly his wrench slipped and he flung it on the grass and snarled, "Fuck! The fucking fucker's fucked." The bystanders were all quite well aware that he had stripped a bolt and skinned his knuckles.
The phrase "Fuck you, you fucking fuck!" is a memorable quote from the movie Blue Velvet from 1986. 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 US, 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, for example.
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?," "STFU" for "shut the fuck up," or "FML" for "fuck my life," 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"). Abbreviated versions of the word tend not to be considered as offensive. Despite the proclaimed vulgarity of the word, several comedians rely on fuck for comedic routines. George Carlin created several literary works based upon the word. Other comedians who use or used the word consistently in their routines include Billy Connolly, Denis Leary, Lewis Black, Andrew Dice Clay, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Sam Kinison.
Examples of more recent usage
The liberal usage of the word (and other vulgarisms) by certain artists (such as James Joyce, Henry Miller, Lenny Bruce, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in their Derek and Clive personas) has led to the banning of their works and criminal charges of obscenity.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger featured the use of fuck you in print. First published in the United States in 1951, the novel remains controversial to this day due in part to its use of the word, standing at number 13 for the most banned books from 1990–2000 according to the American Library Association.
The first documented use of the word fuck on live British television (and probably on any television system) has been attributed to theatre critic Kenneth Tynan in 1965, though it has been claimed Irish playwright Brendan Behan used the word on Panorama in 1956 (although no one could understand him because he was drunk) or the man who painted the railings on Stranmillis Embankment alongside the river Lagan in Belfast, who in 1959 told Ulster TV's teatime magazine programme, Roundabout, that his job was "fucking boring". Controversy also ensued in 1976 when Today host Bill Grundy interviewed the Sex Pistols, after guitarist Steve Jones called Grundy a "dirty fucker" and a "fucking rotter" (see EMI and the Grundy incident).
Use in politics
Fuck is not widely used in politics, and any use by notable politicians tends to produce controversy. Some events of this nature include:
- 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 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago mayor Richard Daley became so enraged by a speech from Abraham A. Ribicoff that he shouted "Fuck you!" Daley would later claim that he was shouting "you fink, you" and calling Ribicoff a "faker". On the first night of this same convention, which was President Johnson's birthday, a huge crowd of thousands of yippies, hippies and anti Vietnam war protesters was famously filmed while simultaneously roaring "Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson!"
- During debate in February 1971 in the Canadian House of Commons, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau mouthed the words "fuck off" under his breath (perhaps almost silently) at Conservative MP John Lundrigan, while Lundrigan made some comments about unemployment. Afterward, when asked by a television reporter what he had been thinking, Trudeau famously replied "What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say 'fuddle duddle' or something like that?". "Fuddle duddle" consequently became a catchphrase in Canadian media associated with Trudeau.
- The first accepted modern use in the British House of Commons came in 1982 when Reg Race, Labour MP for Wood Green, referred to adverts placed in local newsagents by prostitutes which read "Phone them and fuck them." Hansard, the full record of debates, printed "F*** them", but even this euphemism was deprecated by the Speaker, George Thomas.
- Shortly after Tony Blair was elected Leader of the Labour Party, the then Labour MP George Galloway told a public meeting "I don't give a fuck what Tony Blair thinks" when questioned about the party's move to the right.
- In late 2003, US presidential candidate Senator John Kerry used the word fuck in an interview with Rolling Stone. Referring to his vote in favor of the resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq, Senator John Kerry stated, "I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything'? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."
- In June 2004, during a heated exchange on the U.S. Senate floor about Halliburton's role in the reconstruction of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney told Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, "Go fuck yourself." Coincidentally, Cheney's outburst occurred on the same day that the Defense of Decency Act was passed in the Senate.
- In February 2006 (Australia), New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma, while awaiting the start of a Council of Australian Governments media conference in Canberra, was chatting to Victorian Premier Steve Bracks. Not realizing cameras were operating he was recorded as saying "Today? This fuckwit who's the new CEO of the Cross City Tunnel has ... been saying what controversy? There is no controversy." The exchange referred to the newly appointed CEO of a recently opened toll road within Sydney.
- On January 31, 2007, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer angrily retorted to Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, "Listen, I'm a fucking steamroller, and I'll roll over you and anybody else." According to The New York Post, Spitzer confirmed the exchange the following day.
- In 2007, U.S. Senator John Cornyn objected to John McCain's perceived intrusion upon a Senate meeting on immigration, saying, "Wait a second here. I've been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You're out of line." McCain, known for his short temper, replied, "Fuck you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room."
- In April 2007, New Zealand Education Minister Steve Maharey said "fuck you" to a fellow MP during parliamentary question time. He apologized shortly afterwards.
- In December 2008, recorded telephone conversations revealed Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich trying to "sell" an appointment to the Senate seat that Barack Obama resigned after being elected President. In the phone conversation, Blagojevich said in reference to his power to appoint a new senator, "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden and I'm just not giving it up for fuckin' nothing." In the recorded conversations, Blagojevich also referred to Obama as a "motherfucker" and repeatedly said "fuck him." When speaking of the Obama administration's request that Valerie Jarrett be appointed as Obama's replacement, Blagojevich complained, "They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them." Blagojevich also said Tribune Company ownership should be told to "fire those fuckers" in reference to Chicago Tribune editors critical of him.
- In December 2009 in Dáil Éireann, Paul Gogarty responded to heckles from Emmet Stagg with the outburst, "With all due respect, in the most unparliamentary language, fuck you, Deputy Stagg. Fuck you." Gogarty immediately withdrew the remarks and later made a personal statement of apology. Reportage of the outburst quickly spread by media and the Internet. A subcommittee of the Dáil's standing committee on procedure and privilege produced a 28-page report on the incident.
- On March 23, 2010, U.S. vice president Joe Biden whispered into President Barack Obama's ear, "This is a big fucking deal" when referring to the U.S. health care reform bill. His words were picked up by microphones and video.
- On May 3, 2010, Canadian senator Nancy Ruth advised representatives of women's groups to "shut the fuck up on" access to abortion, in the run-up to the 36th G8 summit.
Use in marketing
In April 1997, clothing retailer French Connection began branding their clothes "fcuk" (usually written in lowercase). Though they insisted it was an acronym for French Connection United Kingdom, its similarity to the word "fuck" caused controversy. French Connection fully exploited this and produced an extremely popular range of T-shirts with messages such as "fcuk this", "hot as fcuk", "mile high fcuk", "fcuk me", "fcuk her", "too busy to fcuk", "fcuk football", "fcuk fashion", "fcuk fear", "fcuk on the beach", "the joy of fcuk", etc.
In 2009, the European Union's OHIM trade marks agency disallowed a German brewery to market a beer called "Fucking Hell". They sued, and on 26 March 2010 got permission to market the beer. They claim that it is actually named after the Austrian village Fucking and the German term for light beer, hell.
The word "fuck" has been used in a number of band names, generally based on common compounds. Although most of these bands are in the aggressive, non-mainstream genres of punk and metal, others fall into the categories of more accessible forms of electronic rock and pop.[where?]
"Holy fuck" is a widely used example of 'liturgical profanity' used interjectionally to express anger, contempt, disgust, or amazement. Usually vulgar. Noted by academics and used in literature, deriving its power from a combination of the sacred, holy, and the profane, fuck. An exclamation, similar to "holy shit!", but more offensive, also used informally for sex within a religious context.
The word fuck occurs sometimes in Chinese/English bilingual public notices in China as a machine translation of the Simplified Chinese character 干 (干), which replaced the three Traditional Chinese characters 干 meaning "a pole", 幹 meaning "to do" or "to work", and 乾 meaning "dried". (Traditional Chinese 乾 can also be pronounced qian, which is a Taoist stem word meaning "sky".) Some examples are "spread to fuck the fruit" for "loose dried fruit", "fuck to adjust the area" for "dry seasonings section", and "fuck the certain price of goods" for "dry foods price counter". The fault occurred in some versions of commonly-used Chinese to English machine translators, for example Jinshan (金山 = "Gold Mountain") by Kingsoft.
The term "F-bomb" usually refers to the unanticipated use of the word "fuck" in a particularly inappropriate setting, such as public media. The term was first reported in a newspaper (Newsday) in 1988 when Hall of Fame baseball catcher Gary Carter used it. In 2012 it was listed, for the first time, in the mainstream Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
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), and the title character says it in the cartoon Bosko's Picture Show (1933). 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 and strictly exclamatory uses of the word in PG-13 movies.
On August 19, 1969 the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane played their song "We Can Be Together" uncensored on The Dick Cavett Show, including the 1960s countercultural slogan "Up against the wall, motherfucker!" (which was also the name of an anarchist group at that time). This was the first appearance of the word on U.S. television.
In 1970, 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 Fuck, 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, Goodfellas, and The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as the HBO TV series The Sopranos are known for its extensive use. In the movie Meet the Parents, and its sequels Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, the main character's last name of "Focker" is a running joke. In the popular comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, it is the chief word, repeatedly uttered, during the opening five minutes. In HBO's TV series The Wire, Season 1, Episode 4, entitled "Old Cases," there is a long segment in which two homicide detectives, visiting a crime scene, communicate using only variations of the word "fuck". 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. The movie Student Bodies inserted a scene in the middle of the film to explain to audiences that movies with an R rating are more popular than those carrying a PG rating, which the movie could easily have had. He ends his address with, " ... the producers of this motion picture have asked me to take this opportunity to say 'Fuck you'", at which time the MPAA R-rating banner appeared.
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 at least four 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 second is Big (1988) which has the character of Billy asking Tom Hanks' character, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" The third is Beetlejuice (1988) which has the character Betelgeuse kick over a fake tree and scream, "nice fucking model!" The fourth is 1988's Caddyshack II where Randy Quaid's character shouts out he is going to break down a door with a "fucking baseball bat."
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 its sequel Die Hard 2, Bruce Willis' catchphrase "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" is replaced by "Yippee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon" or "Yippee-ki-yay, Kemo Sabe." Similarly, the TV broadcast edit of Snakes on a Plane has Samuel L. Jackson saying "I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane," emending two occurrences of motherfucking. In the film The Big Lebowski, John Goodman's character repeatedly yells, "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass" while trashing a car. It was infamously censored on television as "This is 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." In the television version, fuck is censored with hell.
Many stand-up comedians who perform for adult audiences make liberal use of the word fuck. While George Carlin's use of the word was 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 only played on many radio stations in an edited version, "Don't Mess With My Heart." 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.
Freedom of expression
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the mere public display of fuck is protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and cannot be made a criminal offense. In 1968, Paul Robert Cohen had been convicted of "disturbing the peace" for wearing a jacket with "FUCK THE DRAFT" on it (in reference to conscription in the Vietnam War). The conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals and overturned by the Supreme Court. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
In 1983, pornographer Larry Flynt, representing himself before the U.S. Supreme Court in a libel case, shouted, "Fuck this court!" during the proceedings, and then called the justices "nothing but eight assholes (referring to Justices Warren E. Burger, William J. Brennan, Jr., Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens) and a token cunt" (referring to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor). Chief Justice Warren E. Burger had him arrested for contempt of court, but the charge was later dismissed on a technicality.
In conversation or writing, reference to or use of the word fuck may be replaced by any of many alternative words or phrases, including "the F-word" or "the F-bomb" (a play on "A-bomb" and "H-bomb"), or simply, eff or f (as in "What the eff!" or "You effing fool!", "What the F! or "You f'ing fool!"). Also, there are many commonly used substitutes, such as flipping, frigging, fricking, freaking, feck, fudge, flaming or any of a number of similar sounding nonsense words. In print, there are alternatives such as, "F***", "F––k", etc.; or a string of non-alphanumeric characters, for example, "@$#*%!" and similar (especially favored in comic books).
A common replacement word used mainly on the Internet is "fsck", derived from the name of the Unix file system checking utility. In Battlestar Galactica the bowdlerized form 'Frack' (spelt 'Frak' in the reimagined 2003 version) was used as a substitute for fuck. The word is sometimes jokingly used as a curse by fans, but its use in unrelated media is growing. Similarly, the word "frell" is used as a substitute on the TV show Farscape, and Dr. Elliot Reid (played by Sarah Chalke) has frequently used the substitute "frick" on the TV show Scrubs.
The phrase feck is a common substitute for fuck in Ireland, where it is considered to be less rude, though still not acceptable in many contexts. It has come into occasional use across the UK in the last 15 years as a result of its frequent use in the Father Ted comedy series. Although the word is considered to be equally as rude as fuck, its appearance in Father Ted and in a Magner's Cider advert suggest the opposite.
- Army creole
- Bleep censor
- The finger, a related hand gesture
- Four-letter word
- Fuck (film), documentary film about the word
- Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting Our First Amendment Liberties
- Harcourt interpolation
- John le Fucker
- List of films that most frequently use the word "fuck"
- Madonna on Late Show with David Letterman
- Seven dirty words
- Sexual slang
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Sharon: I didn't feel like a girl. Do girl things. I was not a girl, not a boy, just someone existing. Then compound that with being a black female. It's even worse 'cause you feel, Jesus, I'm nowhere. 'Cause it's bad enough being a white little girl and you're fat. But when you're fat and you're black, it's like holy fuck. That's like the lowest. The worst thing you could ever be.
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... holyfuck, what is it? I yelled at Harpo, "Get the fuck out o here now! ...
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|Look up fuck in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fuck.|
- Re: the Cheney-Leahy incident, slate.com discusses how American newspapers decide whether or not to print fuck.
- "Online Etymology Dictionary." Some etymological research on the word fuck.
- Fuck, academic paper exploring the legal implications of the word, by Christopher M. Fairman, Ohio State University – Michael E. Moritz College of Law March 2006. Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 59.
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