A photo series illustrating the diversity of the word

Warren Blake: Have you ever noticed the number of things dad is capable of expressing just with the word “fuck”?

Belle Blake: Trying to say dad is illiterate?

Warren Blake: No, I mean he’s a good old boy, so you know he talks to be understood, not just to sound good. So from him a “fuck” would mean”holy shit, what did I just get myself into” or “great pasta” or “I’m gonna get that guy for that.” So, why does a guy like that need to stay up all night writing?

He could already express the entire range of human emotions, with a single word.

– The Family, 2013
(Besson, Caleo, & Benacquista, 2013)


Fuck can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection, infix, etc. It can be the only word in the sentence and still make sense (Fuck fucking fucker). Fuck and its numerous variants can have both a positive and negative connotation depending upon the context of the situation. This is what makes fuck such a versatile and interesting word.

Up All Night

“I am certainly no doctor, but I believe that judicious use of the word in times of extreme stress or irritation can work wonders for your colon, blood pressure, and central nervous system. It even works as an antidepressant. The word is so efficient, it’s like a miracle drug. One quick guttural expulsion is all you need (or sometimes two or three if things are really bad).”

– Lewis Black
Foreword, TheF-Word by Jesse Sheidlower

Lewis Black is on to something…

Catherine Caldwell-Harris, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of psychology studies the various effects of swearing. In her research on swearing and pain reduction, she notes that “Swearing allows people to vent, to blow off steam, and it could be seen as catharsis (Brown, 2010).”

This boat is going down


Fuck is a word of Germanic origin. It is related to several words in Dutch, German, and Swedish, with the meanings “to strike” and “to move back and forth.” These words have both literal and sexual meanings (Sheidlower, 2009, p. 68).

False origins:

A common misconception is that fuck is an acronym. However, occurrences of acronyms before the 1930’s are very rare (Sheidlower, 2009, p. 53). A couple examples of these false acronyms are “For unlawful carnal knowledge” and”Fornication under consent of king” (Mohr, 2013, p. 153).

Another false origin story was perpetrated by the NPR show Car Talk. They said that the word came about after a group of English longbowmen defeated the French around the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Not only did the English wave their fingers at the French but they yelled, “We can still pluck yew” which sounded like “Fuck you.”


The first use was written in code in a poem dated around 1475 – 1500 attacking Carmelite Friars of the town of Ely. The poem was written in both English and Latin with the bad words written in a basic cipher. It is uncertain if the words were censored because they were considered offensive or because of the sins the monks are accused of (Mohr, 2013, pp. 152-153).

“They [the monks] are not in heaven, because they fuck the wives of Ely. Brothers with knives go about and swive men’s wives”

The second earliest example “fukkit,” was in 1513, written in a Scottish poem by Franciscan friar, William Dunbar (Mohr, 2013, p. 152). In 1582, an anonymous monk wrote this comment in the margins of a copy of Cicero’s De Officiis. John Burton, the abbot at the time had questionable monastic morals so it is unclear what the anonymous monk meant. He could have used the word in the literal sense (to use Mohr’s example: “that guy is doing too much fucking for someone who is supposed to be celibate” i.e. having sex) versus using “fucking” as an intensifier such as “That fucking asshole” (Mohr, 2013, p. 151).


Besson, L., Kavanaugh, R., Silla, V. (Producers), Besson, L., Caleo, M., Benacquista, T. (Writers), & Besson, L. (Director).(2013). The Family [Motion Picture].

Brown, E. A. (2010, January 11). The Good Side of Bad Words. BU Today.

Mohr, M. (2013). Holy Shit A Brief History of Swearing. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.

Sheidlower, J.(2009). The F-Word (Third Edition ed.). New York, New York, USA: Oxford University Press.