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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