Fuck is a profane English-language word which often refers to the act of sexual intercourse but is also commonly used as an intensifier or to denote disdain. While its origin is obscure, it is usually considered to be first attested to around 1475. In modern usage, the term fuck and its derivatives (such as fucker and fucking) can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an interjection or an adverb. There are many common phrases that employ the word as well as compounds that incorporate it, such as motherfucker, fuckwit, fuckup, fucknut and fuck off.
The word is considered obscene but is commonly used in many informal and familiar situations.
It is unclear whether the word has always been considered vulgar or, 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. Some 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.
Nevertheless, the word has become increasingly less vulgar and more publicly acceptable, an example of the "dysphemism treadmill", wherein former vulgarities become inoffensive and commonplace. According to linguist Pamela Hobbs, "notwithstanding its increasing public use, enduring cultural models that inform our beliefs about the nature of sexuality and sexual acts preserve its status as a vile utterance that continues to inspire moral outrage." Hobbs considers users rather than usage of the word and sub-divides users into 'non-users', for whom "the word belongs to a set of taboo words, the very utterance of which constitutes an affront, and any use of the word, regardless of its form (verb, adjective, adverb, etc.) or meaning (literal or metaphorical) evokes the core sexual meanings and associated sexual imagery that motivate the taboo.", and 'users' for whom "metaphorical uses of the word fuck no more evoke images of sexual intercourse than a ten-year-old's 'My mom'll kill me if she finds out' evokes images of murder," so that the "criteria of taboo are missing."
Because of its increasing usage in the public forum, in 2005 the word was included for the first time as one of three vulgarities in The Canadian Press's Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide. 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 Germanic words with meanings involving striking, rubbing and having sex or is derivative of the Old French word that meant "to have sex".
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–. There is a theory that fuck is most likely derived from Flemish, German, or Dutch roots, and is probably not derived from an Old English root.
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. Several urban legends advance false etymologies that declare the word to be an acronym. One of these urban legends is that the word fuck came from Irish law. If a couple was caught committing adultery, the two would be punished "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge In the Nude", with "FUCKIN" written on the stocks above to denote the crime. A variant myth alleges church clerks to have recorded the crime of "Forbidden Use of Carnal Knowledge". Yet another is that of a royal permission granted in the Middle Ages: the Black Death and the scarcity of uncontaminated resources drove towns to control both human interactions and population growth. Supposedly many towns required permission to intermingle or to make babies. Hence, no couple could do either without royal permission (usually from a local magistrate or lord) which required placing a sign visible from the road that said "Fornicating Under Consent of King", which was later shortened to "FUCK". This story is hard to document, has persisted in oral and literary traditions for many years, but has been proven false.
A false etymology first made popular on the radio show Car Talk says that the phrase "fuck you" derives from "pluck yew" in connection with a myth regarding the V sign. This myth states that English archers believed that those who were captured by the French had their index and middle fingers cut off so that they could no longer operate their longbows, and that the V sign was used by uncaptured and victorious archers in a display of defiance against the French. 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". In any event, the word fuck has been in use far too long for some of these supposed origins to be possible. Since no such acronym was ever recorded before the 1960s according to the lexicographical work The F-Word, such claims create at best a so-called "backronym".
Fuck has a very flexible role in English grammar, including use as both a transitive and intransitive verb, and as an adjective, adverb, and noun. It can also be used as an interjection and a grammatical ejaculation. 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 the word itself 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.
In 2015, Dr. Paul Booth argued he had found "(possibly) the earliest known use of the word 'fuck' that clearly has a sexual connotation": in English court records of 1310–11, a man local to Chester is referred to as "Roger Fuckebythenavele", probably a nickname. "Either this refers to an inexperienced copulator, referring to someone trying to have sex with the navel, or it's a rather extravagant explanation for a dimwit, someone so stupid they think that this is the way to have sex", says Booth. An earlier name, that of John le Fucker recorded in 1278, has been the subject of debate, but is thought by many philologists to have had some separate and non-sexual origin.
Otherwise, the usually accepted first known occurrence of the word is found 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 "gxddbou xxkxzt pg ifmk", here by replacing each letter by the previous letter in alphabetical order, as the English alphabet was then, yields the macaronic non sunt in coeli, quia fuccant vvivys of heli, which translated means, "They are not in heaven, because they fuck the women of Ely". The phrase was probably encoded 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 fuccant 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".
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"). As late as the 18th century, the verb occupy was seldom used in print because it carried sexual overtones.
A 1790 poem by St. 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".
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 have sex, but it is also used as a more general expletive or intensifier.
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 less-offensive context would translate as "get stuffed". The word is one of the few that has colloquial usage as a verb, adverb, adjective, conjunction, interjection, noun, and pronoun.
The word fuck is a component of many acronyms, some of which—like SNAFU and FUBAR—date as far back as World War II. MILF and variations of the first letter are widely seen in pornographic contexts. 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 internet 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 do not tend to be considered offensive. Although the word is proclaimed vulgar, several comedians rely on fuck for comedic routines. George Carlin created several literary works based upon the word. Other comedians who use or have 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 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 to 2000 according to the American Library Association.
The first documented use of the word fuck on live British television 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 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 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).
The word began to break into cinema when it was uttered once in the film Vapor (1963) and in two Andy Warhol films – Poor Little Rich Girl (1965) and My Hustler (1965), and later in each of two 1967 British releases, Ulysses and I'll Never Forget What's'isname. It was used several times in the 1969 British film Bronco Bullfrog. According to director Robert Altman, the first time the word "fuck" was used in a major American studio film was in 1970's M*A*S*H, spoken by Painless during the football match at the end of the film.
Use in politics
Fuck is not widely used in politics, and the use of the word by politicians often produces controversy. Some events 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".
- Former British Secretary of State for Defence Denis Healey reported that the penultimate High Commissioner of Aden (1965–67), Sir Richard Turnbull, stated that, "When the British Empire finally sinks beneath the waves of history, it will leave behind it only two memorials: one is the game of Association Football and the other is the expression 'Fuck Off'."
- 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 say 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 House of Commons of Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau mouthed the words "fuck off" 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, the then-U.S. 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 U.S. President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq, 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, U.S. 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, Premier of the Australian state of New South Wales 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 microphones were recording, he said, "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 the recently opened Cross City Tunnel toll road within Sydney.
- On January 31, 2007, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer angrily retorted to Assembly Minority Leader Jim 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 (the lower house of the Irish Parliament), 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. Reporting 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. Aengus Ó Snodaigh said "fuck-all" in November 2009 and apologised in Irish; he said "fucked up" in 2010. Mick Wallace said "fuck up" in May 2016 and the adjective "fucking" in July 2016 and 2019.
- 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.
- In late 2012, the then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner was visiting the White House, where he saw then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the lobby. Boehner was under great stress about the impending fiscal cliff, and Reid had also accused him of running a "dictatorship" in the house. Boehner saw Harry Reid, pointed his finger at him, and told him, "Go fuck yourself!" Reid replied by saying, "What are you talking about?" Boehner then repeated what he had told him and left.
- In late 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reacted to the European Parliament's criticism over the prevalence of unsolved extrajudicial killings incurred in his "War on Drugs" which he lashed out at EU politicians, singling out those from Britain and France, calling them "hypocrites" and accusing them of being responsible for the deaths of thousands caused by their ancestors during the colonial period. Upon making an obscene hand gesture, Duterte stated that he told EU politicians, "When I read the EU condemnation I told them 'fuck you.' You are only doing it to atone for your own sins" and "They do not want a safe Philippines. They want it to be ruled by criminals. Oh, well, I'm sorry. That is your idiotic view". Duterte also said, in response to growing international criticism, the "EU now has the gall to condemn me. I repeat it, fuck you."
- On June 10, 2018, Robert De Niro sparked controversy during the 72nd Tony Awards as he cursed U.S. President Donald Trump with the word during the live broadcast. He started with the sentence: "I'm gonna say one thing: Fuck Trump." He clenched his two fists in the air, and ended his remarks by saying "It's no longer down with Trump, it's fuck Trump!" He received a standing ovation from the audience, which was mostly celebrities.
- On August 5, 2019, Beto O'Rourke after learning of a mass shooting in his home town of El Paso, Texas stated "He's been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don't know, like, members of the press, what the fuck?" referring to Donald Trump when asked for his reaction to the shooting.
During the George W. Bush presidency a vehicular bumper sticker with the words Buck Fush gained some popularity in the US.
Use in marketing
In April 1997, clothing retailer French Connection began branding their clothes "fcuk" (usually written in lowercase), stating it was an acronym for "French Connection United Kingdom". Its similarity to the word "fuck" caused controversy. French Connection produced a range of T-shirts with messages such as "fcuk this", "hot as fcuk", "mile high fcuk", "fcuk me", 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 argued it is actually named after the Austrian village of Fucking and the German term for light beer, hell (which is simply the word for "light in colour").
Iancu v. Brunetti is a United States Supreme Court case in which the owner of the clothing brand FUCT (supposedly standing for "Friends U Can't Trust") sued the Patent and Trademark Office, which refused to trademark the name for being "scandalous" under the Lanham Act. The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that a provision in of the Act, denying registration to any trademarks seen as consisting of immoral or scandalous matter, was an unconstitutional restriction of applicants' freedom of speech.
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 an example of 'liturgical profanity' used interjectionally to express anger, contempt, disgust, or amazement. Usually vulgar.
The term "dropping an F-bomb" usually refers to the unanticipated use of the word "fuck" in an unexpected setting, such as public media, a play on the nickname for the hydrogen bomb (the "H-bomb") and the shock value that using the word "fuck" in discourse carries. 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.
In the United States, the word is frequently edited out of music and films when broadcast on TV, such as in the film The Big Lebowski, when John Goodman's character repeatedly yells, "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass". It was censored on television as "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps."
Still, in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the 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 a slogan titled "Fuck the Draft" (in a 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 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, forget 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 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 'f-r-a-k' in the reimagined 2003 version) was used as a substitute for fuck. The word was sometimes jokingly used as a curse by fans. 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. Stu Braudy, a recurring character on Curb Your Enthusiasm played by Don Stark, is teased by Larry David for constantly using the substitute "freak" ("Ahh, freak you!").
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I did not cry out for the Government to bail me out at the current market value, which was worth fuck-all at the time. ... Tá brón orm. D'úsáid mé téarma parlaiminte mícheart.
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No one is being held to account. This is a fucking joke. This is too bad.
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