One of the Earliest Known Uses of the “F‑word” Discovered: It Appears in a 1568 Anthology Compiled During a Plague

“Wan fukkit fun­ling”: as an insult, these words would today land a minor blow at most. Not so in Scot­land of the ear­ly 16th cen­tu­ry, in which William Dun­bar and Wal­ter Kennedy, two of the land’s well-known poets, faced off before the court of King James IV in a con­test of rhyme. The event is memo­ri­al­ized in the poem “The Fly­t­ing of Dun­bar and Kennedie,” one of 400 anthol­o­gized in what’s known as the Ban­natyne Man­u­script. Com­piled in 1568 by an Edin­burgh mer­chant named George Ban­natyne, stuck at home while a plague swept his city — a con­di­tion many can relate to these days — it now enjoys pride of place at the Nation­al Library of Scot­land as a cul­tur­al trea­sure, not least because it con­tains what may be the old­est record­ed use of the F‑word.

The Ban­natyne Man­u­script and “wan fukkit fun­ling” (whose appear­ance you can see in the image at the top of the post, in the sixth line from the bot­tom) play an impor­tant part in the new BBC Scot­land doc­u­men­tary Scot­land – Con­tains Strong Lan­guage. The hour-long pro­gram, writes The Scots­man’s Bri­an Fer­gu­son, “sees actress, singer and the­atre-mak­er Cora Bis­sett trace the nation’s long love affair with swear­ing and insults, despite the long-stand­ing efforts of reli­gious lead­ers to con­demn it as a sin.” Fer­gu­son quotes Bis­sett describ­ing the impor­tance of this par­tic­u­lar “fly­t­ing” (“the 16th cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of a rap bat­tle”) as fol­lows: “When Kennedy address­es Dun­bar, there is the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing record of the word ‘f***’ in the world.”

“In the poem, Dun­bar makes fun of Kennedy’s High­land dialect, for instance, as well as his per­son­al appear­ance, and he sug­gests his oppo­nent enjoys sex­u­al inter­course with hors­es,” writes Ars Tech­ni­ca’s Jen­nifer Ouel­lette. “Kennedy retal­i­ates with attacks on Dun­bar’s diminu­tive stature and lack of bow­el con­trol, sug­gest­ing his rival gets his inspi­ra­tion from drink­ing ‘frogspawn’ from the waters of a rur­al pond.” All high­ly amus­ing, to be sure, but giv­en how few of us Eng­lish-speak­ers will imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize in “wan fukkit fun­ling” the curse with which we’ve grown so inti­mate­ly famil­iar, does this real­ly count as an exam­ple of usage in Eng­lish?

‘To me, that looks more like Scots than Mid­dle Eng­lish,” writes Boing Boing’s Thom Dunn, “although both lan­guages were derived from Olde Eng­lish.” (He also reminds us not to con­fuse Scots with the sep­a­rate lan­guage of Scot­tish Gael­ic.) Medieval his­to­ri­an Kristin Uscin­s­ki writes in to Ars Tech­ni­ca to point out a cer­tain “Roger F$#%-by-the-Navel who appears in some court records from 1310–11” — pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured, of course, here on Open Cul­ture. His­to­ri­ans and lin­guists will sure­ly con­tin­ue doing their own kind of bat­tle to deter­mine what counts as the first true F‑word, mak­ing more dis­cov­er­ies about the Eng­lish lan­guage’s her­itage of swear­ing along the way. One thing is cer­tain: if any nation has made a rich use of that her­itage, it’s Scot­land.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Ear­li­est Known Appear­ance of the F‑Word, in a Bizarre Court Record Entry from 1310

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

Steven Pinker Explains the Neu­ro­science of Swear­ing (NSFW)

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

Read A Clas­si­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Vul­gar Tongue, a Hilar­i­ous & Infor­ma­tive Col­lec­tion of Ear­ly Mod­ern Eng­lish Slang (1785)

A Lec­ture About the His­to­ry of the Scots Lan­guage … in Scots: How Much Can You Com­pre­hend?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (5)
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  • Alan Russell says:

    Great doc­u­men­tary on BBC Scot­land last night that includ­ed this man­u­script:

  • Douglas Wilson says:

    It’s a word still dear to many Scots to this day, as Sco­tish come­di­an and leg­end Bil­ly Con­nol­ly shows all too well in this clip:

  • Susie says:

    My thoughts as to your New­found Dis­cov­ery on the ear­li­est use of the “F” Bomb word in your dis­cus­sion today, it is my opin­ion to be the Worst Word in any lan­guage to have ever been uttered & used as a word to be learned & used for any rea­son. I have nev­er heard it used for any good rea­son but only used in hate­ful terms & the one way I have heard it used sup­pos­ed­ly to be in an affec­tion­ate & ador­ing way also sounds so DISGUSTING that it’s in No Way a “Turn On” so there you have it from some­one who is total­ly offend­ed by this “F” word…a word that needs to be Oblit­er­at­ed from ALLLLLLL Human
    Lan­guages that exists to mankind. Thank you for allow­ing me to com­ment & express my feel­ings on this GHASTLY AWFUL word.

  • Rev Kaelene Lord says:

    My under­stand­ing of the word is an ana­gram: For Unlaw­ful Car­nal Knowl­edge.

  • Sue says:

    That’s Van Halens under­stand­ing as well.

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