It’s “one of the most graphic, explicit and vulgar words in the English language and it is amazing to consider that this short four-letter swear word is one of the most used nouns, verbs and adjectives in our vocabulary.
So where did it come from? This Swiss Army Knife of the English language has been adding spice to our conversations for centuries. Because fuck is the type of word that “wasn’t written in any ancient scriptures and texts, it is difficult to trace its origins, although traces of variations of the word had led experts to believe that it is “ancient.”
First of all, let us dispel a widely touted myth that the word FUCK is an acronym based or “Fornication Under Command/Consent of the King” (purportedly the King trying to increase birth rates or alternatively restricting the act to put a halt to the spread of disease) or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (for those being arrested for such). However, beyond there being zero evidence of either of these (or any other acronymic origin of the F-word), it’s worth pointing out that prior to the mid-20th century, while abbreviations were prevalent in text, pronouncing them as words were not something people did. Combined with the lack of evidence supporting such an origin, we can safely dismiss origin stories like these.
The world’s earliest recorded use of the F-word lies in a Scottish manuscript penned by a bored student who was in lockdown due to the plague. Dating back to the 16th century, the Bannatyne Manuscript is a collection poem written by George Bannatyne, while he was a bored student locked in his Edinburgh home due to the plague. This manuscript contains William Dunbar’s epic poem The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, in which two poets trade insults with one another. As the pair traded blows, Kennedy brands Dunbar a ‘wan fukkit funling’
Some experts believe that the spelling of the F word looks distinctly Scandinavian, which points its origin to Northern Europe whose language would be influenced by Viking invasions. Those advocating for this hypothesis point to the Norwegian “fukka”, meaning to “copulate”, or the Swedish “focka” to “copulate, strike, push”, which in turn may have derived from an Old Norse version of the words, which may have birthed the English “fuck”.
The alternate hypothesis is that it derived from one of the many flavors of the German “fuk” or “fukkon”. For example, the German “ficken” meaning, “to make quick movements to and fro”. This line of words, in turn, is speculated to come from the Proto-Indo-European *pewg meaning “to strike/hit”.
Continuing on this hypothesis, in todays Oxford English Dictionary, it back this up by formally stating that the ultimate etymology is uncertain, but that the word is “probably cognate” with a number of native Germanic words with meanings involving striking, rubbing, and having sex.
An interesting note, by the late 18th century the f word almost completely disappeared from pretty much every prominent English dictionary until around the middle of the 20th century when, in 1965, The Penguin Dictionary decided they didn’t give a fuck, and so gave its readers “fuck”.