The many origins of the word “fuck”

This sassy, controversial, comforting, profane and sacred four-letter word is finally getting the spotlight it deserves.

Pain, anger, happiness, boredom, elation, panic, disgust, excitement – “fuck” truly covers a range of states. But where does the word actually come from? Why is it so popular among English speakers and non-English speakers alike? Is “fuck” really that offensive? And truly, who, if anyone, gives a fuck?

For your guilty pleasure and ours, the Gymglish team has conjured up an abridged history of the word “fuck”, largely by watching Pulp Fiction and scanning Wikipedia, and it may well blow your effing mind. Read on!

The origins of fuck

Out of the 5,000 or so English words that begin with the letter “F”, fuck is the only word we refer to as “the F word”. But what are the terms origins? Like many English insults and curse words, its history is colorful and roots remain somewhat mysterious.

Unlike most of its vulgar counterparts, fuck doesn’t have its roots in Old English. The F word is thought to come from the German word fricken which means “to strike” or “to hit”. It may also come from the Swedish dialectal word focka (“to strike” or “to copulate”) and/or the Dutch word fokken (“to breed”).

At some point, rumor had it that the word fuck was a backronym of “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” or the Irish “Fornication Under Consent of the King”. This of course has proven to be false, aka fucking bullshit. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that “the first definite evidence for the word comes from a 1528 manuscript found in Oxford”. Going as far back as the 13th century, however, historians have also come across surprising surnames related to the term, including John le Fucker (1278), Fuckebegger (1287) and Simon Fukkebotere (1290), which suggests that the word was used far before the 16th century. Also, records from Bristol dated 1373, refer to a town near Bristol called “Fockynggroue,” which may have been named for a remote place where couples eloped to enjoy some fucking alone time. Very romantic place. TripAdvisor rates it highly for honeymoons.

One of the reasons that the word “fuck” is so hard to trace etymologically lies in the fact that it was used far more extensively in common speech than in written form – likely because it carried a strong taboo. According to lexicographer and linguist Jesse Sheidlower in his book The F-Word (1995), the common usage of the word as we know it today was established by the mid 19th century, and has been fairly present in the English lexicon since.

So there you have it: “fuck’s” origins are disputable and elusive, but that doesn’t stop us using it in every fucking possible situation. 

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Is fuck really that offensive?

The curse word was banned in print in the United Kingdom following the British Obscene Publications Act of 1857, but still continued to be used in conversation nonetheless. The taboo was so strong that from 1795 to 1965, fuck did not appear in a single dictionary. Only in 1966 did the Penguin Dictionary break form to include the popular term word in its new edition.

Even today, for a great many people, the word is simply too vulgar to utter – it’s therefore common to hear distortions such as “fork” “frig”, “fack”, “flip” “eff” and even “fudge”, all of which allow people to sidestep the term in a less offensive manner.

Though the word fuck can literally refer to sexual intercourse, it’s often used in the figurative sense to denote or express a very strong emotion or reaction. Over the past decades, we can argue that the term’s offensiveness has gradually worn down and its impact has lessened, or at least our reaction to hearing it – it is common to hear the term daily under certain circumstances.

The acceptability of fuck is aided greatly by its popularization in film and television. In Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street alone, the expletive is dropped over 500 times over a 180-minute running time. In Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the word is said around 400 times. However, this shift in use is by no means universally accepted – many people are still highly offended by the word.

Has this content piqued your curiosity? A new article is coming soon – stay tuned! In the meantime, try our online English course Gymglish for free for 7 days today.

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