It’s one of the most versatile words in the English language, but where did the F-word really come from? Originally, the naughtiest of naughty words was actually quite an acceptable word, though no English speaker would say that today.F-ck is believed to have first showed up in written form some time in the 1400s, and it was disguised in a cypher, although it was in use well before then.
The F-word in the dictionary
The F-word was recorded in a dictionary in 1598 (John Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes, London: Arnold Hatfield for Edw. Blount). It is remotely derived from the Latin futuere and Old German ficken/fucken meaning ‘to strike or penetrate’, which had the slang meaning to copulate. Eric Partridge, a famous etymologist, said that the German word was related to the Latin words for pugilist, puncture, and prick. One folk etymology claims that it derives from “for unlawful carnal knowledge,” but this has been debunked by etymologists.
The word became rarer in print in the 18th century when it came to be regarded as vulgar. It was even banned from the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1960, Grove Press (in the US) won a court case permitting it to print the word legally for the first time in centuries—in D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (written in 1928).
WATCH: How Shut Up Became So Mean
The taboo nature of f-ck has given rise to a slew of euphemisms—or mild, indirect, or vague expression substituted for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt. Frig, frack, frick, fork, and fug, d’fuq, fux, and WTF (or whiskey tango foxtrot) are all popular substitutions, especially for the spoken f-word.
We also now have eff and effing, as well as f-word and f-bomb. All of these alternates give us ways to get around using everyone’s favorite four-letter word.
Want to know how some other curse words originated … flip through the slides in Where The Bleep Did That Curse Word Come From?