Antedating Gxddbov.

Back in 2007 I wrote about what was then the earliest known occurrence of the protean word fuck, in the late-15th-century macaronic/cipher line “Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk”: ‘They are not in heaven because they fuck wives of Ely.’ Now, in breaking profanity-related news, Medievalists.net reports:

An English historian has come across the word ‘fuck’ in a court case dating to the year 1310, making it the earliest known reference to the swear word.

Dr Paul Booth of Keele University spotted the name in ‘Roger Fuckebythenavele’ in the Chester county court plea rolls beginning on December 8, 1310. The man was being named three times part of a process to be outlawed, with the final mention coming on September 28, 1311.

Dr Booth believes that “this surname is presumably a nickname. I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word ‘dimwit’ i.e. a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it.”

You can see a nice clear reproduction of that section of the rolls, as well as further discussion, at the link; all I can say is, Fuck yeah!

Update. Piotr Gąsiorowski says The Middle English Dictionary Needs a Fucking Update and gives what to me sounds like a very convincing PIE etymology of fuck. Don’t miss it.

Comments

  1. Hat said once he didn’t mind tangents (good thing, since they spread like weeds in a liberal blog). Can some of you germanists enlighten me on the origin and present offensiveness of bumsen? I used it once in a German chatroom and got a rather negative reaction, yet we have Dingsbums ‘thingamajig’ which seems to be ok (?).

    Also: how universal are taboo expletives? I recognize two types in SAE: those based on sex and those based on religion. Before I retired I was an Indianist. Every Native American I asked about this insisted there were no such words in their language, and indeed, I never found any in the ones I worked on. There was plenty of explicit language and comical names in the old stories, but — none of it seemed to have given rise to expletives.

  2. And also excrements and animals. And illnesses. And mental abilities. And on physical abilities too. Come to think of it, there’s hardly anything you can’t base a swearing on.

  3. Since the German verb ficken means the same thing, I’m assuming that both the word and its meaning go back at least to proto-West Germanic. So I don’t see this new finding as being at all surprising.

  4. @ D. O. Those sound interesting, at least to me. Have any examples in mind? According to Wikipedia, neurologist Antonio Damasio (I mention him because I once wrote to him; no response) noted that despite loss of language due to damage to the language areas of the brain, patients were still often able to swear.

  5. The trouble with that idea is that fuck and ficken do not correspond regularly: the regular counterpart of German stressed/ɪ/ is likewise /ɪ/ in English (sitzen, sit, e.g.)

  6. Every Native American I asked about this insisted there were no such words in their language.
    Ken, roughly where were the people you were talking to from? I understand that people from some areas are reputed to be raunchier than others.

  7. Indeed, people where I study languages (Southeastern Tibet) are sufficiently raunchy to teach me to say things like “your pussy is tight” when I was inquiring them for the conjugation of the said static verb. But they never say expletives in their daily conversation. (There’s quite a bit of real swearing by sacred objects, though)

  8. @ Y Wisconsin – elderly speakers of Oneida; Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Menomini; Winnebago. So “Woodland” culture, three language families. Please don’t misunderstand: it isn’t about raunchiness; it’s about expletives. Men could be raunchy enough; and at the other extreme, NA ladies would tend to reject anything “unpleasant” in aboriginal life. But everyone denied there were expletives (“swear words”) in their languages, nor did I find any in three years in Menomini or Winnebago, the languages I personally worked on. (All the languages were moribund – no children spoke them – except Winnebago.) So what I’m wondering is, how universal is “swearing”?

    Maybe we just lack a tight definition of what “swearing” is.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Can some of you germanists enlighten me on the origin and present offensiveness of bumsen? I used it once in a German chatroom and got a rather negative reaction, yet we have Dingsbums ‘thingamajig’ which seems to be ok (?).

    Bumsen evidently comes from the humorous sound two people might make when they collide: banging and boinking. In other words, it’s rather a dysphemism.

    Probably not many people have yet made a connection to Dingsbums. I can’t really say, because I’m only familiar with Dings

    fuck and ficken do not correspond regularly

    They still might if the spelling ficken is taken from an unrounding dialect. Given how few there are that didn’t unround ö and ü several hundred years ago – High Alemannic, East Franconian, Low German if you even want to count that –, it’s possible that the word happened to have died out in all of them, or at least in East Franconian which is geographically closest to where Standard German comes from… to the extent that the word can be called Standard.

    For that to work, my linguistic ancestors would have had to replace “fuck” by its own causative at some point. Replacing “fuck you” by “get yourself fucked” makes sense to me…

    And then there’s Muckefuck, the bizarre northern word for coffee substitutes. de:wikipedia suggests a “Rhineland/Westphalian” reanalysis of mocca faux based on the local words Mucken “brown rotting wood” and fuck “foul”.

    Fucking in Austria is unrelated. …Though, who knows what that nobleman was really named for.

  10. So I don’t see this new finding as being at all surprising.

    It’s not surprising in the sense that the word is that old, it’s surprising in that a huge antedate like that of a word that’s been intensively studied is ipso facto surprising.

  11. One of the strongest Mongolian expletives is khuuree.

    Which means corpse…

    Profanities in Mongolian are all like that – low on sexual imagery and quite strong on death, blood and curses which may you shiver when translated literally.

  12. Replacing “fuck you” by “get yourself fucked” makes sense to me…

    Actually, I grew up with “Get fucked” in English. It now seems to have been replaced by “Fuck you”.

  13. Speaking of cursing, here’s something that Hat and those commenters who understand Russian might find amusing:

    http://lleo.me/dnevnik/2008/05/26.html

    Proposals for new letters of the Russian alphabet.

  14. Ha! For those who don’t read Russian, the letters П and Ц have been combined to represent the common swear пиздец ‘fucking great/awful!’ (depending on context: Жизнь — пиздец как хороша! ‘Life is fucking great!’ but Погода сегодня — просто пиздец! ‘The weather today fucking sucks!’).

  15. And there are two new letters above that – the Б with an umlaut and the Х with a breve.

  16. Right, but those are apparently not as new. (They represent the two basic Russian swears, ёб ‘fuck’ and хуй ‘cock/prick’ respectively.)

  17. As to Dingsbums:

    Got into trouble in my second year of primary school when I shouted Ohne Dings kein Bums into class. A boy was looking for a word, you know Dingsbums and then I thought I’d be clever… I’d read it somewhere without understanding the naughty pun. (Without a thing,i.e. penis, no bonk.)

  18. x̆ letter reminded me about a rebus, which amused me many years ago. Here it is
    хй
    Answer: Безу pronounced same as “без у” (without у), but meaning Bézout.

Speak Your Mind

*