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

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

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).

Under the heading “What the Fuck?” Snopes has eight dif­ferent phrases as a pos­sible origin of the word fuck as an acronymic ab­bre­vi­a­tion 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.

“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-fingered 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 it 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.


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). Her 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. 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 only words 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 the tone of voice.

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.


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