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F Word

The F-Word - Jesse Sheidlower This book caught my eye when I was browsing round a bookshop a few years ago. Well it is quite eye-catching - what with it being bright yellow and having the asterisked legend 'f***' embossed in black on the cover.The editor, Jesse Sheidlower lives in Manhattan with "his wife, his dog, his two razor-clawed cats, and a f#@k of a lot of books." He describes this book as: "the complete history of the word in all its robust and various uses" and claims that: "this book contains every sense of fuck, and every compound word or phrase of which fuck is a part." "I like to think," he said in an interview, "that in the future people will be more offended by violence than by language." Hear, hear! If you would not wish your servants to read a line like: "I'm not just my lady's fucker, after all," then this book (and this review) is not for you. After an introduction offering a potted history of the F-word and its first appearances in print and on television, what we have here is an A-Z of Effing, from Absofuckinglutely to Zipless Fuck (apparently coined by Erica Jong in her 1973 book "Fear of Flying" to describe an unemotional act of intercourse.) To give you an example, here is one of my favourite entries: HORSE-FUCKING /adjective/ huge. a1968 in Legman "Rationale" p.549: Two great horse-fucking volumes.Just one of many wonderful expressions the bloody Bowdlerizing po-faced anti-swearing brigade would like to deprive us of. ('scuse my gramma - she's not well.) Oh I'm sorry, am I being childish? So much is in the ear of the beholder anyway. I don't think that anyone ever suggested Kenneth Williams was being vulgar when he used his catchphrase: "Ooh stop muckin' about" even though Ernest Hemingway had already used "mucking" as a euphemism - perhaps even as an abbreviation of motherfucking: "...muck this whole treacherous muck-faced mucking country and every mucking Spaniard in it on either side and to hell for ever." For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940) chapter 35. And when Samuel Johnson famously excluded vulgarities from his dictionary, it lead to a memorable exchange. A lady complimented him for leaving out such offensive words, to which he replied: "No, Madam, I hope I have not daubed my fingers. I find, however, that you have been looking for them." Indeed, many dictionary compilers preferred to leave their tomes incomplete rather than print offensive words until quite recently. The Oxford English Dictionary excluded the F and C words until 1972 - although they had included Windfucker (a type of kestrel). There is also a fuck-you lizard, so named because of it's call. Inevitably this book is full of barrack room slang and unpleasantries, but it is educational - I certainly learned a few things from reading it! For example, I didn't know that lighting one cigarette from another is called a "Dutch fuck" and that a "French fuck" is something very different. Call me naive, but I'd never even heard of a "fuckerware party". Ann Summers has a lot to answer for! Each entry includes chronologically ordered examples of it's usage in books or films. Some books are referenced an extraordinary number of times, such as "Bawdy Verse" (1610) and "Love and Drollery" (1650), while "The Romance of Lust" (1866) and "Stag Party" (1888) sound particularly suitable for anyone with a really filthy mind. Surprisingly, fuck is NOT an Anglo-Saxon word as we have always been led to believe. It was probably borrowed from Low German, French, Flemish or Dutch sometime in the fifteenth century. Similar words from Europe which may be related (illegitimately?) include:- •the German word 'ficken' (meaning to copulate) •the Middle Dutch word 'fokken' (to thrust or copulate with) •the Swedish words 'fock' (penis) and 'focka' (to strike or push) •and the Norwegian word 'fukka' (to copulate) So you can forget the myth about it being an acronym (for Forced Unsolicited Carnal Knowledge, for example.) However, talking of acronyms, there are plenty of those in this book and I think some of them could come in handy here on the net... •FYFI (For Your Information) here are a few of my favourites:- •AMF ........ Adios Mother... •BFD ........ Big Flaming Deal. •BUF ........ Big Ugly Freak. •NFG ........ No Flaming Good. •NFW ....... No Feasible Way. •SNAFU .... Situation Normal - All Fouled Up. •TARFU .... Things Are Really Fouled Up. •FUBAR .... Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. •FUBB ...... Fouled Up Beyond Belief. Some of those words have been changed to protect their identity by the way, which brings me to the subject of euphemisms:- Feck you, flak you, forget you, fork you, fug you; frapping this, freaking that, fricking the other, etc. The oldest must be 'frig' - Robbie Burns used it in 1786, and it had already popped up many times before then. When Norman Mailer published The Naked and the Dead in 1947 he was forced to use that rather embarrassing euphemism 'fug'. How he must (not) have laughed when he met the renowned wit Dorothy Parker and she greeted him as "the man who can't spell fuck". Anyway, I think it's time for me to "stop this futzing around" as Ronald Reagan once said. This is a serious lexicographical work (with the emphasis on the graphic) so I do apologize if you have found this review a bit tedious. If that is the case then fuck you and the horse you rode in on - if you will pardon my French/Low German/Middle Dutch/whatever. [This review was adapted from one I originally posted on dooyoo.co.uk in July 2001]