Today I have mostly been learning about… “Fuck”
I was reading the wonderful and intentionally provocatively titled article “Fuck” by Christopher M. Fairman (published in March 2006 in the Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 59/Centre for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies Working Paper Series No. 39 and available for free online here) and thought I should share some of my favourite parts of it with you.
Some of this will be direct quotations, some will be my own paraphrases, some will be my own additions… and there is not going to be any coherent narrative, but I thought a lot of people out there might share my affection for the word “fuck” and its variants, and appreciate learning something new about it and hearing some amusing legal stories from this serious scholarly article. Many thanks to Edwina Smith for passing it in my direction.
Here we go…. 15 things you wanted to know about fuck:
1. Previous studies on the word “fuck” have included Leo Stone’s On the Principal Obscene Word of the English Language (1954) and Allen Walker Read’s An Obscenity Symbol (1934), “fifteen pages and eighty-two footnotes penned without once printing the word fuck anywhere in the article”.
2. In 2002, a man called Timothy Boomer was canoeing on the Rifle River in Michigan. He fell overboard and let out a few fucks. A nearby Sheriff gave him a ticket citing an 1897 statute – “Any person who shall use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor”. Boomer was then convicted and sentenced to a $75 fine and 4 days community service.
3. “Fuck is a taboo word. According to psycholinguists, its taboo status is likely due to our deep, subconscious feelings about sex. The taboo is so strong that it compels many to engage in self-censorship. However, refraining from the use of fuck only reinforces the taboo. In the process, silence empowers small segments of the population to manipulate our rights under the guise of reflecting the greater community. Taboo is then institutionalised through law, yet at the same time is in tension with other identifiable legal rights. Understanding this relationship between law and taboo ultimately yields fuck jurisprudence. However, all the attempts to curtail the use of fuck through law are doomed to fail. Fundamentally, fuck persists because it is taboo, not in spite of it.”
4. One potential first occurrence of fuck is in a Scottish poem by William Dunbar:
“Yit be his feiris he wald haif fukkit / Ye brek my hairt, my bony ane”
William Dunbar, Ane Brash of Wowing (1503)
5. “During the last Egyptian dynasties, legal documents were sealed with the phrase, “As for him who shall disregard it, may he be fucked by a donkey.” The hieroglyphic for the phrase – two large erect penises – makes the message clear.”
6. Fuck did not appear in any widely-read English dictionary from 1795 to 1965.
7. Jesse Sheidlower’s dictionary “The F-Word” is now in its second edition and spans 272 pages, devoted entirely to the word fuck and its variants. These range from absofuckinglutely – “an adverb meaning absolutely” – to zipless fuck – “a noun meaning an act of intercourse without an emotional connection”. My personal favourite uses of fuck would have to be clusterfuck and skullfuck… although I shan’t attempt definitions.
8. An interesting article entitled “Bush’s Obscene Tirades Rattle White House Aides” (August 25, 2005)
9. Someone was thrown off a flight for wearing this t-shirt:
Check out the full story in the NY times here.
10. “Thais speakers in an English environment do not use certain Thai words because they sound like taboo English words, such as the Thai words fâg (sheath), fág (to hatch) and phrig (chili pepper). Similarly , Thai speakers avoid using English words, such as yet, that sound similar to taboo Thai words, such as jéd, a taboo Thai word for sexual intercourse.”
11. “Word taboo is irrational. it is one thing to ban certain acts; as a society we are probably better off. But to proscribe naming those same acts makes no sense. Yet that is precisely what we do. In the case of fuck, the taboo is also unhealthy. Emerging from an unhealthy attitude about sex, fuck is an example of what Read calls a “word fetish”. The extreme emotional response to the word only serves to perpetuate negative attitudes toward sex.”
12. Dooling: a person “with four lifetimes and a burning desire to find out whether he may scream ‘Fuck!’ in a crowded theatre will come away in confusion if he looks for his answer in the opinions of the Supreme Court.”
13. “By far the most important victory for breaking the word taboo comes in Cohen v. California – the “Fuck the Draft” case – where the Court comes to terms with this four-letter word. In protest of the Vietnam War and the draft, Paul Cohen wore a jacket bearing the phrase “Fuck the Draft” while in the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Cohen didn’t threaten to or engage in violence or make any loud or unusual noises. All he did was walk through the corridor of a public building wearing a jacket. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty days in jail for violating a California statute prohibiting malicious and willful disruption of the peace by offensive conduct.”
14. Statistically, men swear more than women… according to some research amongst Midwest college students men are 40% more likely to use fuck, and 60% more likely to use motherfucker.
15. “Even when fuck-based, gender specific insults are found, such as “fucking fat bitch,” if the alleged harasser also refers to men with fuck-based, gender-specific insults, such as the “fucking new guy”, the complained-of language does not establish a sex harassment claim. The use of foul language in front of both men and women is not discrimination based on sex. However, comments such as “fucking bitch”, “dumb fucking broads” and “fucking cunts” were-gender specific. Judge Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit wrote in Steiner v. Showboat Operating Company, “[i]t is one thing to call a woman ‘worthless’, and another to call her a ‘worthless broad’.””
And there you have it… who knew fuck could be such a fascinating word?