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

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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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  • 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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