In English, a number of words are attributed to the ancient times of the Anglo Saxons. The best known and most used of these is the word ‘fuck’.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning as ‘an act of sexual intercourse’. Well! Yes, we all knew that, but it’s the other uses the word has been put to in recent times that I find so interesting.
This ancient but surprisingly modern word can be fitted into many grammatical categories. For example, as a transitive verb (John fucked Mary) but also as an intransitive verb (Mary was fucked by John). What is surprising about the word is that in the same context it can be a noun (Mary was a fine fuck) or even an adjective (Mary is fucking beautiful).
In days gone, by the word fuck was very much frowned upon and only used by coarse working men and sailors but never by ladies or school boys. That was probably true to a certain extent; school boys knew if they were caught saying the word they stood to have their mouths washed out with soap, and ladies felt that a word like that was beneath their dignity — unless they were a lady of some importance and extremely angry.
The first time I heard a lady use that word was when, as a very young boy sailor at a very important ceremonial parade, I had the job of opening the car door for the captain’s wife. When the car came to a stop I stepped forward and opened the door, only to be met by one very angry lady.
Knowing that discretion is the better part of valour, I stood well back out of her way. Not so one young officer, who rushed forward trying to be helpful but actually impeded her exit from the car. Once she had, with some difficulty, extricated herself from the car, she drew herself up to her full 5-foot-nothing and, with feathered hat askew, said in a loud but surprisingly commanding voice, “Get out of my fucking way.” It was claimed later that sailors on the opposite side of the parade ground heard the young officer’s testicles shrivelling. My thought at the time was, “If you’re a lady and you have cause to curse, that’s the way to do it — with style.”
In recent times, the word fuck has had a resurgence of popularity in everyday conversation. It’s no longer regarded as a taboo swearword but is used for emphasis and can be fitted into many situations. For example, ignorance (I’m fucked if I know), trouble (I guess I’m fucked now), fraud (I got fucked with that second-hand car), pennilessness (I’ve got sweet fuck all), and disorganisation (He couldn’t organise a fuck in a knocking shop).
This useful word also describes aggression (fuck you, fuck off, get fucked), confusion (What the fuck is going on here?), surprise (Fuck! You scared the shit out of me!), suspicion (What the fuck are you doing?), apathy (Who gives a fuck?), exhaustion (I’m utterly fucked), anxiety (Today is really fucked), and enjoyment (I had a fucking good time last night).
Fuck can also be used as a greeting (How the fuck are you?), a polite request to leave (Get the fuck out of here), a polite enquiry (Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want?), or a polite command (Stop fucking about).
An expression that’s right up my street is one that describes innovation: “Get a bigger fucking hammer.” I have a brother who’s actually a very good mechanic, but regrettably his favourite work saying is, “Get a bigger fucking hammer.” My other brother, who’s not a mechanic and thinks of himself as the intellectual member of the family, considers my writing puerile and my intellectual endeavours of a very low order. At least, that’s what I think he means when he refers to me as a “fuckwit”.
Not a lot of people know this, but English playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) used the word fuck extensively in his writing. However, during the Victorian period, politically correct wowsers removed all of the fuck words so that they wouldn’t offend Queen Victoria.
I’ve been fortunate in locating an original manuscript that was never censored and I would like to share a few original quotes with you. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, (Act 5, Scene 1) there’s a good example when Horatio hands Hamlet the skull of the Court Jester, Yorick. He says:
“Alas poor Yorick, I knew this fucker well, Horatio.”
A few other examples are:
“I didn’t sleep a fucking wink.”
“To be, or not to be, that’s the fucking question.”
“It’s all fucking Greek to me.”
“A charmed fucking life.”
“Neither a fucking borrower nor a fucking lender be.”
“Though this be madness, yet there be fucking method in it.”
“Gilding the fucking lily.”
As you can see from these few examples, Shakespeare’s writings were loved by the public of the time because he wrote in the way they generally spoke.
But it wasn’t just Shakespeare’s writings that were sanitised to make them acceptable to the PC wowsers back then. For example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner used to start:
“It is an ancient mariner, and he stoppeth one of three. By thy long white beard and glittering eye, now why the fuck doth thou stoppest me?”
And what is probably the most famous phrase from the poem used to be:
“Water, water every fucking where, nor any drop to drink.”
Again, in a different example, when the McDonnell Douglas Corporation’s chief research engineer discovered that an experiment had been fucked up by someone fitting test gauges upside down, he remarked:
“Any fucking thing that could go fucking wrong, did go fucking wrong.”
Finally, a saying by the war-weary British, about the Americans in Britain in 1944 was:
“There’s only three things wrong with the Yanks: they’re over fucking paid, they’re over fucking sexed, and they’re over fucking here.”
I don’t believe we should deny the word, like the Victorians did, but I do believe when using this versatile Anglo Saxon word we need to treat it with the respect Shakespeare afforded it and not overuse it to try to sound clever. I had a friend who definitely overused the word by inserting it between syllables of ordinary English words. For example, he would say, “I’m from fucking-Man-fucking-chester”. Not really Shakespearian, is it? He also once said, “He was fucking eaten by a fucking-croco-fucking-dile”. To my way of thinking, that’s definitely overkill and doesn’t treat the word with the respect it deserves. After all, if it’s been with us since Anglo Saxon times and has found a resurgence of use in everyday conversation, we should use it sparingly and appropriately.
In the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, way back a century ago, when the old string-bag aircraft were covered with canvas, waterlogging was a problem. When the canvas wings of the airplanes became saturated with rain or sea spray they were unable to fly. When that happened, a description of the aircraft was “wet and fucking useless”, which was soon reduced to the initials WAFU, which came to mean no flying. However, over the years the term was adopted by the seamen to describe the fly-boys of the Fleet Air Arm and was eventually adopted by them as a badge of honour.
If you were a sailor and you were asked a difficult question about some character in naval history that you had no idea about, you could confuse the questioner by using an old navy expression. It appears to give an answer while bringing in the name of one of Britain’s most famous warships. You could say, “Oh! Yes, that was old fucky off the ‘ood.” (HMS Hood was known and revered throughout the navy as The Mighty ‘ood.)
Our cherished Anglo Saxon word has spread to many countries around the world and an interesting story comes from wartime Britain, when a BBC broadcaster was interviewing a Polish fighter pilot who had shot down two German planes. The pilot was enthusiastically describing how he’d managed to accomplish his feat.
“I managed to get close behind the first focker and gave him a long burst, which blew his tail off, then the second focker came out of the cloud and I got him as well.” The broadcaster then broke in to say, “Ah! Yes. I should explain to our listeners that a Focker is a type of German aircraft.” The Polish pilot said, “Yes, yes, that is right, of course. But these two fockers were Messerschmitts.”
In conclusion, I would like to reveal a little-known therapeutic benefit that regularly using this ancient word can bring to experienced practitioners (such as coarse working-men, sailors, schoolboys, tradesmen, policemen, lady schoolteachers, and important ladies, and even to casual users such as old ladies, vicars and intellectuals such as myself) if it’s used meaningfully and on a daily basis. This ancient, magical word can relieve tension, lower blood pressure and induce a calming aura for the user.
It is also claimed that the word may be used as a transcendental meditation mantra. If, on waking in the morning, you repeat five times, “Fuck you, fuck everybody,” it will clear your mind and cleanse your liver, whiten your teeth, clear bad breath and make you feel a lot happier. You can also direct the mantra at someone specific, such your boss, an ex-friend who’s fucked you off, or even an organisation. For example, “Fuck the Inland Revenue Department.”
I do, and I’m as happy as fuck.