By far the hardest thing about writing a weekly column is finding something to write about. Many a the Wednesday finds me, head in hands, belly in a knot, peering anxiously up at the tyrannical clock through red eyes, saying to myself, “What the fuck am I going to write?” This week it happened that, while I was doing some research and wondering my wonted what-the-fuck, I fell into a pleasantly pink, naughty little reverie, inspired by today’s subject matter – NOT, I repeat NOT inspired by our fellow female students; I’m engaged, and thus never notice a one of them) – and I realized that I knew exactly what I would write about, namely, one of my favorite things – I mean, words: fuck.
Now just hold on a got’ damn minute! How can the Vanguard publish this kind of trash? It must be that college kids, delighted that they can use “bad” words away from mommy and daddy, often lard their speech and writing over-heavily with this sort of filth, right? Or the old saw (old-fashioned proverb) that one uses “fuck” only for want of another word, that cursing is somehow a failure of vocabulary that makes you sound dumb, or unladylike, or like an impolite, half-wit.
I say, on the contrary, that this fine word (along with the lovely, and much maligned cunt, thankfully embraced by The Vagina Monologues) is far from being unutterable garbage, is part of our rich, varied linguistic heritage, and should be rehabilitated, at least for use by adults.
As expletives, these words are without equal. Both begin and end with harsh, forceful consonants, bridged by a viscerally guttural schwa, the most muscular of vowels. To say fuck, one must bare one’s teeth, launch the percussive vowel, and then end with a sharp, staccato k. Cunt begins where fuck ends (though ideationally the two are often coterminous) gliding over the vowel to end with a consonant pair that binds it inextricably to want, hunt- the /nt/ an echo of a satisfied gesture. Aurally, then, these words function beautifully, but they are more than mere cuss-words, as we’ll see with a quick glance at their etymology. For now, we’ll start with fuck, and perhaps in a subsequent column proceed to cunt (or is that putting the cart before the horse?).
First off, forget that fuck is an acronym of some kind. I won’t bore you with the various interpretations of such, (thank you Van Halen), just know it’s a word in its own right. It’s often hard to trace the precise etymology of words deemed obscene (fuck was not allowed in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary when the F-volume was compiled in 1893-7) but we can nonetheless dig around and find the history of this glorious word.
Way back in 1278 (or 1250, source depending) we find the proper name John le Fucker, and the word appears somewhat later, in code, in a famous poem written in middle English and vulgar (get it?) Latin. Elsewhere, we find it mainly in Scotland, where it apparently came from Scandinavian roots. There is a Norwegian dialect containing fokka, “to copulate, strike”, and fock, “penis.” Modern German ficken comes from the same root, but the resemblance to French foutre and Italian fottere is incidental, though they do come from the Latin futuere, which means “to strike,” which is, again, one original meaning of fokka (and think of the modern verb “to bang”). Searching further back, we find that, according to the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, fuck "almost certainly" comes from the Indo-European root *peuk- = "to prick" (hilarious as that is, it’s also the source of the words compunction, poignant, and pungent).
But regardless of all that, we can surely grant that it’s a most useful word. “It’s fucking hot out here,” just has a different ring to it than “It’s extremely hot out here,” in terms of connotation as well as denotation. The former implies more than just intensification, but an emotional connection to the utterance, whereas the latter comes straight from the Weather Channel. Used thus, as an adverb, fuck is more than a mere intensifier, but an adumbration of a whole slew of emotions, from lust, to anger, to indifference, to happiness.
As a noun or adjective, consider the richness and range of meaning in the following: “What a little fuck,” “He’s a great fuck,” “I’ve got fuck-all left,” “Check out this fucking guy,” “She’s a fucking genius.” No other single word could add such syncopated interest to one’s speech while still conveying such depth of meaning.
But its as a verb, in its original entry (I just can’t resist) into English, that fuck really fucking shines: “I want to fuck you,” “He’s not working, he’s fucking off,” “Fuck off, buddy,” “Don’t fuck with that, you’ll break it,” “She got hella fucked up last night,” and the ever-popular, and expressive, “Man, I’m fucked,” (the last two being, admittedly, adjectival as well) are just a few examples of this beautiful, fun, multifarious word.
So, next time someone says “Fuck you,” smile courteously, think of your knowledge of old Scandinavian, and say, “Don’t mind if I do!”