The Very First Written Use of the F Word in English (1528)

Eng­lish speak­ers enjoy what seems like an unmatched curios­i­ty about the ori­gins and his­tor­i­cal usages of their lan­guage’s curs­es. The exceed­ing­ly pop­u­lar “F word” has accret­ed an espe­cial­ly wide body of tex­tu­al inves­ti­ga­tion, wide-eyed spec­u­la­tion, and implau­si­ble folk ety­mol­o­gy. (One of the ter­m’s well-known if spu­ri­ous cre­ation myths even has a Van Halen album named after it.) “The his­to­ry begins in murky cir­cum­stances,” says the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary’s site, and that dic­tio­nary of dic­tio­nar­ies has man­aged to place the word’s ear­li­est print appear­ance in the ear­ly six­teenth cen­tu­ry, albeit writ­ten “in code” and “in a mixed Latin-and-Eng­lish con­text.” Above, you can see one of the few con­crete pieces of infor­ma­tion we have on the mat­ter: the first defin­i­tive use of the F word in “the Eng­lish adjec­ti­val form, which implies use of the verb.”

Here the word appears (for the first time if not the last) not­ed down by hand in the mar­gins of a prop­er text, in this case Cicero’s De Offici­is. “It’s a monk express­ing his dis­plea­sure at an abbot,” writes Katharine Tren­da­cos­ta at i09. “In the mar­gins of a guide to moral con­duct. Because of course.” She quotes Melis­sa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief His­to­ry of Swear­ing, as declar­ing it “dif­fi­cult to know” whether this mar­gin­a­lia-mak­ing monk meant the word lit­er­al­ly, to accuse this abbott of “ques­tion­able monas­tic morals,” or whether he used it “as an inten­si­fi­er, to con­vey his extreme dis­may.” Either way, it holds a great deal of val­ue for schol­ars of lan­guage, giv­en, as the OED puts it, “the absence of the word from most print­ed text before the mid twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry” and the “quo­ta­tion dif­fi­cul­ties” that caus­es. If you find noth­ing to like in the F word’s ever-increas­ing preva­lence in the media, think of it this way: at least future lex­i­cog­ra­phers of swear­ing will have more to go on.

To view the com­plete man­u­script page, click here. The doc­u­ment seem­ing­ly resides at Brasenose Col­lege, Oxford.

via io9

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Steven Pinker Explains the Neu­ro­science of Swear­ing (NSFW)

Stephen Fry, Lan­guage Enthu­si­ast, Defends The “Unnec­es­sary” Art Of Swear­ing

George Car­lin Per­forms His “Sev­en Dirty Words” Rou­tine: His­toric and Com­plete­ly NSFW

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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Comments (30)
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  • LeAnn Shultz says:

    When he was in high school my broth­er did research on the pro­gres­sion of the Eng­lish lan­guage for his senior research paper. Dur­ing his search­ing he found the let­ters “f. u. c. k.” in court doc­u­ments from colo­nial times and they were used as an acronym for “for­ni­cat­ing under car­nal knowl­edge.” I love his­to­ry!

  • Fred Herbert says:


    Why are you read­ing a cul­tur­al stud­ies web­site?

  • Greg McDonald says:

    For sev­er­al decades, I have been under the impres­sion f*ck was an orig­i­nal Angles (Ger­man) word. There is no attempt here to address the ques­tion of ori­gin. Inter­est­ing but dis­ap­point­ing.

  • Howard Bowman says:

    ‘Noth­ing’s either good or bad but think­ing makes it so.”
    So why would one write: “the f word” when one would say “fuck” — a word said so often to mean so many things that there’s no shock val­ue.
    I mean: who the fuck cares?

  • simone gad says:

    i love his­to­ry too. and fuck is a very descrip­tive word-can be used in all kinds of sit­u­a­tions. it was my first eng­lish word that i learned in boyle heights as a very young child new­ly from europe, my native lan­guage being french. and i found it to be the per­fect word for how i was feel­ing at that moment-very upset.

  • Linda says:

    LeAnn, the use of acronyms as words is pri­mar­i­ly a twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry phe­nom­e­non. Peo­ple in colo­nial times weren’t in such a hur­ry that they need­ed to use acronyms. Nor were they moti­vat­ed by expen­sive call­ing plans to short­en the words in their text mes­sages. Plus, the abil­i­ty to read or spell was not a giv­en, so acronyms would have been lost on most peo­ple. Per­haps your broth­er would have done well to use sources oth­er than 80’s are­na rock hair-band albums for his “research.”

  • Rene says:

    Ever heard of Geof­frey Chaucer?

  • Jay New says:

    Why is “fuck­ing abbot” writ­ten so dif­fer­ent­ly from the rest of the text??

  • dusty says:

    the wire did a com­plete scene where the only word was the f word, said in many ways with­out any oth­er words, clas­sic…

  • Daibhid C says:

    Jay —

    It’s mar­gin­a­lia. The church pro­vid­ed this monk with a copy of Cicero; he wrote his opin­ion of the abbot on it.

  • Jan says:

    Eng­lish and Dutch are two close­ly relat­ed ‑but slight­ly dif­fer­ent- lan­guages. I won­der if the ori­gin of the f‑word in Eng­lish has to do with the mean­ing of the dutch word “fokken” (breed­ing of ani­mals. Anec­dote:

    Joseph Luns, Dutch min­is­ter of for­eign affairs, once tried to tell John F. Kennedy he bred hors­es as a hob­by. It came out as “I fok hors­es”.

    Kennedy then replied “Par­don?”, to which Luns respond­ed “Yes, paar­den!” (Dutch for hors­es.)

  • Edward says:

    Shock val­ue is only part of the effec­tive­ness, and fun, of swear­ing. There is still a mean­ing that is, or at least was, out of the ordi­nary. It’s like say­ing “those”. No wait I mean, “Fuck those”.

    As long as it is defined as a bad word. It will be. Unless some­one changes the def­i­n­i­tion of bad that is.

  • Trickster says:

    Ya know Azi­raphale has the orig­i­nal of that book

  • ash says:

    For those who did not read the actu­al­ly A F*cking Short His­to­ry of the F‑Word by. Melis­sa Mohr that is ref­er­enced here I crital part was left out that has some ask­ing why the writ­ten part dif­fers from the rest of the text here is why
    “An anony­mous monk was read­ing through the monastery copy of De Offici­is (a guide to moral con­duct) when he felt com­pelled to express his anger at his abbot. ”

    Don’t just read one page on the net go for more sources.

    In oth­er words learn how to do your research!

  • Dawn says:

    I was told that the word F.U.C.K. stood for “For Unlaw­ful Car­nal Knowl­edge” ref­er­enc­ing a case in Eng­land ..

  • Ed says:

    Sor­ry, but that’s a myth.

    Pret­ty much all those “this word comes from an acronym” sto­ries are wish­ful thinkers by.

  • Red Rix says:

    In Dutch we have the verb ‘fokken’ (orig­i­nal­ly ‘fock­en’) which means ‘to breed’, usu­al­ly in the con­text of farm­ing or ken­nel­ing, but it is also used in a ‘vul­gar­’­com­mon man­ner, sim­i­lar as ‘fuck­ing’ is used in Eng­lish, to express you are messing/teasing, are angry/uptight etc, and under influ­ence of pop­u­lar cul­ture recent­ly as an alter­na­tive to the Eng­lish bastardized/anglicized as ‘fokking’ this or that as an adjec­tive. So the ety­mol­o­gy should­n’t be too hard to fig­ure out. It is sim­ply a Ger­man­ic form that some­how made it’s way into Eng­lish. No acronyms or cryp­tic ref­er­ences or obscure ancient orig­ines. Prob­a­bly just some­thing the Sax­ons brought along .…

  • Phutatorius says:

    Fuck appears in the Fly­t­ing of Dun­bar & Kennedie which was writ­ten in 1508.

    Igno­rant elf, aip, owll irreg­u­lar,
    Skaldit skait­bird and com­moun skame­lar,
    Wan­fukkit fun­ling that Natour maid ane yrle,
    Baith Johine the Ros and thow sall squeill and skir­le
    And evir I heir ocht of your mak­ing mair.

    “Wan­fukkit fun­ling” is “foundling, prod­uct of a weak fuck.”

    As for the com­ment about it being a Ger­man­ic form that some­how made its way into Eng­lish, that’s like­ly, since Eng­lish is a Ger­man­ic lan­guage.

  • David Pinto says:

    I think Lou Costel­lo wrote that.

  • Nick Waters-Jolley says:

    You evi­dent­ly, because you care enough to com­ment.

  • Gaia Nicolosi says:

    The rest of the test is Latin and it is writ­ten in a font.

    While “fuckin abbot” was propably writ­ten nor­mal­ly. Like, the monk wrote that because he was annoyed that the abbot made him write like that.

  • JON DOER says:

    I doubt if this was the first time for the word. It is very old. And it is NOT an acronym!
    What most don’t under­stand is the miss­ing word. The ‘I’ is implied in ‘fuck you.’
    You are not telling the per­son to get fucked — you are telling them you have the pow­er to fuck them. This has caused a lot of con­fu­sion in the mod­ern times.

  • Frank Riverman says:

    Can’t remem­ber the source unfor­tu­nate­ly, but I found a ref­er­ence to the effect that the orig­i­nal mean­ing was sim­ply ‘to beat’. Appar­ent­ly in Shake­speare’s time there was a bird, now extinct, called a’wind­fuck­er’

  • Marcus says:

    .…..I just want to know what word they used before the F‑Bomb came along?

  • Paul says:

    I think you will find the f is actu­al­ly s in old Eng­lish . Pos­si­bly a sig­na­ture.

  • David Kaye says:

    From my ety­mo­log­i­cal research I’d say “fuck” comes from the Latin “facio” (pro­nounced FAWK-eeo) and mean­ing “to cre­ate”. The word “rape” appar­ent­ly also comes from the Latin, “rapio” (RAWP-eeo), mean­ing to seize and car­ry off.

  • Mangan says:

    Aldous Hux­ley main­tained that the old­est known source of the word is the Etr­uscan verb “flukuthuk” (cop­u­late). I for­get exact­ly where he said this,but I think it was in a dis­cus­sion of his friend DH Lawrence, who may have dis­cov­ered the term for him. Hux­ley was extolling the ono­matopoe­ic vigour of the word, com­pared to the watery Latin equiv­a­lent.

  • Justin Andrew Mason says:

    @Jan: 5 years lat­er, I’m just now see­ing this com­ment and laugh­ing way too hard. Bra­vo!

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