Since the year 2000 the OED has been trudging its way through the alphabet (starting from M), revising as they go: “According to that model, the present publication batch would include words from quits to somewhere early in the letter R.” The announcement by Chief Editor John Simpson continues:

But after several years of steady alphabetical publication, we have decided to vary the publication mix. The present publication range departs radically from the former model, in that its 2,116 entries consist for the most part of key English words from across the alphabet, along with the other words which make up the alphabetical cluster surrounding them. From now on, we expect to alternate between these two models each quarter, with the next publication range (in June 2008) continuing from quits, and the subsequent one (September 2008) presenting a further range of major words and their associated alphabetical clusters.

The main purpose of this change is to revise, much earlier than would otherwise have been the case, important English words whose meanings or application have developed most over the past century. Some of these key words are, as one might expect, among those often looked up by readers of the OED. This change also brings the revision more in line with our policy for publishing new words and senses, which have since June 2001 been taken from across the full alphabetical range.

You can see the complete list of newly revised words here. Yes, I went straight to the entry for fuck, and I am happy to report that the etymology is greatly expanded. The old one is so spare it suggests a desire to sweep the subject under the rug:

[Early mod.E fuck, fuk, answering to a ME. type *fuken (wk. vb.) not found; ulterior etym. unknown. Synonymous G. ficken cannot be shown to be related.]

Now see the riches the Mar. 2008 draft revision provides:

[Prob. cognate with Dutch fokken to mock (15th cent.), to strike (1591), to fool, gull (1623), to beget children (1637), to have sexual intercourse with (1657), to grow, cultivate (1772), Norwegian regional fukka to copulate, Swedish regional fokka to copulate (cf. Swedish regional fock penis), further etymology uncertain: perh. < an Indo-European root meaning ‘to strike’ also shown by classical Latin pugnus fist (see PUGNACIOUS adj.). Perh. cf. Old Icelandic fjúka to be driven on, tossed by the wind, feykja to blow, drive away, Middle High German fochen to hiss, to blow. Perh. cf. also Middle High German ficken to rub, early modern German ficken to rub, itch, scratch, German ficken to have sexual intercourse with (1558), German regional ficken to rub, to make short fast movements, to hit with rods, although the exact nature of any relationship is unclear.

   On the suggested Indo-European etymology (and for a suggestion that the word was probably a strong verb during its earlier history in English) see especially R. LASS ‘Four letters in search of an etymology’ in Diachronica 12 (1995) 99-111.

   It seems certain that the word was current (in transitive use) before the early 16th cent., although the only surviving attestation shows a Latin inflectional ending in a Latin-English macaronic text: see quot. a1500 and note at sense 1b. See discussion at FUCKER n. on various supposed (but very doubtful) earlier occurrences of the word in surnames. However, if the bird name WINDFUCKER n. (also FUCKWIND n.) is ult. related, it is interesting to note an occurrence of the surname Ric’ Wyndfuk’, Ric’ Wyndfuck’ de Wodehous’ (1287 in documents related to Sherwood Forest) which may show another form of the bird name. For discussion of a possible (although not certain) occurrence of FUCKING n. in a field name fockynggroue recorded in a Bristol charter of c1373 see R. COATESFockynggroue in Bristol’ in N. & Q. 252 (2007) 373-6.

   Many alternative theories have been suggested as to the origin of this word. Explanations as an acronym are often suggested, but are obviously much later rationalizations.

   Despite widespread use over a long period and in many sections of society, fuck remains (and has been for centuries) one of the English words most avoided as taboo. Until relatively recently it rarely appeared in print, and there are still a number of euphemistic ways of referring to it (cf. e.g. EFF v., FECK v.2, F-WORD n., F-WORD v.). It is also frequently written with asterisks, dashes, etc., to represent suppressed letters, so as to avoid the charge of obscenity. Modern quotations for the term before the 1960s typically come from private sources or from texts which were privately printed, esp. on the mainland of Europe. Bailey (1721) included the word (defined ‘Foeminam Subagitare’), but not Johnson (1755), Webster (1828), and later 19th- and early 20th-cent. dictionaries. Partridge (1937) included the word as ‘f*ck’, noting that ‘the efforts of James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence have not restored it to its orig. dignified status [in dictionaries]’. A gradual relaxation in the interpretation of obscenity laws in the U.K. followed the unsuccessful prosecution in 1960 of Penguin Books Ltd. (under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959) for the publication in the London edition of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (see, for example, quot. 1928 at sense 1b). The first modern dictionary of general English to include an entry for the verb fuck was G. N. Garmonsway’s Penguin English Dictionary of 1965).]

Here, by contrast, the luxuriance (with gleeful repetition: “fickenfickenfickenficken“) suggests a reveling in previously forbidden four-letter fruit.

I am pleased to see that the earliest citation is still the one I quoted in my curses book (a1500: “Non sunt in cœli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk [= fuccant uuiuys of heli]”), and I am absolutely delighted by the first cite for go fuck yourself, and especially by the source, the New York (State) Legislature, Senate Committee on the Police Department of the City of New York, Report and Proceedings of the Senate Committee Appointed to Investigate the Police Department of the City of New York:

1895 Rep. Senate Comm. Police Dept. N.Y. III. 3158 By Senator Bradley: Q. Repeat what he said to you? A. He said, ‘Go on, fuck yourself, you son-of-a-bitch; I will give you a hundred dollars’; he tried to punch me, and I went out.

And who could fail to love the surname Wyndfuck de Wodehouse, or the place name Fockynggrove?


  1. John Emerson says

    Damn you. You got to the Wodehouse first.

  2. For the sake of historical preciseness: that NY State Senate report was published in 1895, but the testimony took place on October 10, 1894. The entire testimony can be read here. Scroll back a few pages for the date.

  3. It’s gratifying to know that people far smarter than me run straight to the F Word when demonstrating exactly how much can gets kicked by the OED.

  4. Being an avid collector of old Hindi films, I was happy to see “mahurat” make the grade, also because the bangla version muharat feature in the name of one of my favourite movies.

  5. Johnson: (to George) So, ahem, tell me, sir, what words particularly interested
    George: Oh, er, nothing… Anything, really, you know…
    Johnson: Ah, I see you’ve udnerlined a few (takes dictionary, reads): `bloomers’;
    `bottom’; `burp’; (turns a page) `fart’; `fiddle’; `fornicate’?
    George: Well…
    Johnson: Sir! I hope you’re not using the first English dictionary to look up
    rude words!
    Edmund: I wouldn’t be too hopeful; that’s what all the other ones will be
    used for.

  6. My sincerest contrafibularities on your excellent and appropriate reference, Conrad. Sausage!

  7. If anyone wants to hear ‘windfucker’ in context, spoken by an actor live on stage, come see Ben Jonson’s ‘Epicoene or the Silent Woman’ at the Blackfriars in Staunton, VA, though April 5th. (Website: It’s hilarious, and what Hatter wouldn’t want to see a play named after a grammatical term like ‘epic(o)ene’?

  8. Wish I could be there!

  9. It’s only about a six-hour drive. Come on down. With rotating repertory, you can generally see three different shows between 2:00pm Saturday and 5:00pm Sunday. Besides Epicoene, they are currently showing As You Like It, Timon of Athens, Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, and Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy.

  10. I saw it performed in 1984 by the Jean Cocteau Repertory Company, about a block from my house. I will not forget John Emmert (though, true, I had forgot his name) delivering the play’s punch-line with masterful scorn. The title character was (as he often is) billed as “A. Mapa.”

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