what the fuck part 3 (wtf are all these acronyms about?)

WHAT THE FUCK PART 3 was writ­ten months ago as a follow-up the an­other posted piece, “what the fuck part 2 (an et­y­mo­log­i­cal look at everyone's fa­vorite four-letter word),” posted April 25, 2014. Both pieces more or less ad­dress the un­kil­l­able ur­ban leg­end that the word fuck is an acronym — a word formed from the ini­tial let­ter or let­ters of each of the suc­ces­sive parts or ma­jor parts of a com­pound term that form a new word). We will turn to the inim­itable Snopes.com for more . . .

Un­der the head­ing “What the Fuck?” Snopes has eight dif­fer­ent phrases as a pos­si­ble ori­gin of the word fuck as an acronymic ab­bre­vi­a­tions of those phrases. If 'fuck' was an acronym, it should have started its life out as all caps with pe­ri­ods (“F.U.C.K.”), then evolved into an ac­tual acronym (all caps sans pe­ri­ods, “FUCK”) and fi­nally be­come ac­cepted as the sim­ple word (“fuck”) that we all love so dearly.

It's al­most guar­an­teed [that] any word from be­fore the time of au­to­mo­biles did not spring to life from a se­ries of ini­tials.

Though a few com­mon Eng­lish words have grown out of acronyms, fuck isn't one of them. With pre­cious few ex­cep­tions, words of acronymic ori­gin date from the 20th cen­tury and no ear­lier.

It's al­most guar­an­teed . . . any word from be­fore the time of au­to­mo­biles did not spring to life from a se­ries of ini­tials, be­com­ing so com­mon that folks be­gan pro­nounc­ing it as its own word.”

Alas, due to their pol­icy of not al­low­ing copy­ing, cut­ting, and past­ing from their page — and my pol­icy of not tak­ing an in­ter­minable amount of time to two-fingeredly (sic) type out lengthy quotes from other sites — I was not able to place an abridged ver­sion of “What the Fuck?” here for your ed­i­fi­ca­tion.

(I did send Snopes.com an email in­quir­ing — and com­plain­ing — about their pol­icy. To my sur­prise, I re­ceived a per­son­al­ized re­sponse within a mat­ter of hours. Their pol­icy is based on their de­sire to pro­tect their copy­righted, orig­i­nal “in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty” — an un­der­stand­able po­si­tion. I will re­spond to that re­sponse af­ter this ar­ti­cle is com­pleted.)

They also have a lengthy com­men­tary on the et­y­mol­ogy of the word but, lo and be­hold, their site does not al­low cut­ting of con­tent for past­ing on an­other site, so I can't use one of my fav­er­ave go-to sources. In­stead, I will turn to Melissa Mohr . . .



A brief history of swearing

Once upon a time, the Eng­lish pop­u­la­tion was dec­i­mated by the plague. The King was so con­cerned about the shrink­ing num­ber of his sub­jects that he or­dered his peo­ple to re­pro­duce. His procla­ma­tion, 'For­ni­cate Un­der Com­mand of the King,' was the source of our fa­vorite swear­word.

Un­for­tu­nately this story isn't true, nor is pretty much any et­y­mol­ogy of a swear­word that in­volves an acronym. Fuck isn't an Anglo-Saxon word ei­ther. The f-word is of Ger­manic ori­gin, re­lated to Dutch, Ger­man, and Swedish words for 'to strike' and 'to move back and forth.' It first ap­pears in the 16th cen­tury, in a man­u­script of the Latin or­a­tor Ci­cero.

Only in the early to mid-19th cen­tury did 'fuck' be­gin to be used non-literally — to in­sult and of­fend oth­ers, to re­lieve pain, and to ex­press ex­tremes of emo­tion, neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive.

In 1598, John Flo­rio pub­lished an Italian-English dic­tio­nary in­tended to teach peo­ple these lan­guages as they were re­ally spo­ken. Florio's dic­tio­nary is thus full of fucks.

But while the f-word was com­mon in the pe­riod, it was not a swear­word. It was sim­ply a di­rect and in­creas­ingly im­po­lite word for sex­ual in­ter­course. Only in the early to mid-19th cen­tury did it be­gin to be used non-literally, as most swear­words are, to in­sult and of­fend oth­ers, to re­lieve pain, and to ex­press ex­tremes of emo­tion, neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive. In other words, it took roughly three hun­dred years to make the tran­si­tion from 'he fucked her' to 'that's fuck­ing awe­some!' ”

The above is lifted from an ar­ti­cle by Melissa Mohr ti­tled “A F*cking Short His­tory of the F-Word” for Huff­in­g­ton­Post (May 29, 2013). Ms. Mohr’s ar­ti­cle is more than 800 words in length, while my abridg­ment above is just over 220 words, so there is lots more of Mohr to read, so click on over to Huff­Post and read the rest. Melissa Mohr is also the au­thor of Holy Sh*t – A Brief His­tory of Swear­ing.



An irreverent history of the f-word

"‘Fuck’ is ac­tu­ally a per­fect word-nerd kind of a word. As this book de­tails, it’s prob­a­bly one of (or the) only word in the Eng­lish lan­guage that can be used in every part of a sen­tence – as a verb, a noun, an ad­jec­tive, a par­tici­ple and tucked away in the mid­dle of other words (abso-fucking-lutely). It also works as its own lit­tle sen­tence (Fuck!), and can change mean­ing de­pend­ing on tone of voice.

If you have to teach word-nerdery, ‘fuck’ isn’t a bad choice for an ex­am­ple — kids like an ex­cuse to swear.

If you have to teach word-nerdery (and have an un­der­stand­ing head­teacher) ‘fuck’ isn’t a bad choice for an ex­am­ple — kids like an ex­cuse to swear and they’ll have to know their tran­si­tive verbs from their in­tran­si­tive very clearly to be able to point out which fuck is which. This book is full of that stuff — the et­y­mol­ogy and uses through dif­fer­ent lan­guages and his­tory.

There are also sto­ries of cen­sor­ship, and of those who do their very best to en­sure ‘fuck’ is a word that is heard (some­times ac­ci­den­tally). There are tales of the ori­gins of pop­u­lar phrases in­clud­ing, or as a re­place­ment for, ‘fuck’ (poor Sweet Fanny Adams) and lists of songs and films that in­clude ‘fuck’ in the ti­tle or snuck into lyrics. It’s both nerdily in­ter­est­ing, and filthy and hi­lar­i­ous." 

The above is from a re­view of Ru­fus Lodge's F**k – An Ir­rev­er­ent His­tory Of The F-Word on the Mis­chief and Mis­cel­lany web­site.

The decimation of “decimation”

In the first sen­tence of her ar­ti­cle, Ms. Mohr uses the word “dec­i­mated” in a man­ner that means that the pop­u­la­tion was nearly wiped out. That is not the orig­i­nal mean­ing of the word! The word dec­i­ma­tion is from the from Latin dec­i­ma­tus, past par­tici­ple of dec­i­mare, which means “the re­moval or de­struc­tion of one-tenth.”That is, to dec­i­mate a pop­u­la­tion means to re­move one-tenth of that pop­u­la­tion. (On­line Et­y­mol­ogy Dic­tio­nary)

The term dec­i­ma­tion be­came known “in ref­er­ence to the prac­tice of pun­ish­ing muti­nous mil­i­tary units by cap­i­tal ex­e­cu­tion of one in every ten, by lot.”Decimation of “a re­bel­lious city or a muti­nous army was a com­mon pun­ish­ment in clas­si­cal times. The word has been used — in­cor­rectly, to the ir­ri­ta­tion of pedants — since the 1660s to mean to de­stroy a large por­tion of.” (On­line Et­y­mol­ogy Dic­tio­nary)

So, if you (like me) pre­fer cer­tain words to have spe­cific mean­ings — es­pe­cially here where the root “dec/deci” al­ways refers to units of ten — then stick to your guns re­gard­ing the proper use of dec­i­ma­tion. Let your freak flag fly! Um, I mean, let your pedant's (you have to look this one up) flag fly!

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