Help Revise “The F-Word”!

Back in 2009, I raved about the then-new third edition of Jesse Sheidlower’s magnum opus, The F-Word; now Jesse is soliciting help with the forthcoming fourth:

The first edition came out in 1995, and was based on the Historical Dictionary of American Slang (the fuck-containing volume of which had been published in 1994). This edition largely ignored non-American uses of the word, and its treatment of entries beyond the letter F was spotty. The second edition of 1999 remedied these and other problems. The third edition, published in 2009, was a massive update; by that point I had become an editor at the OED, and was able to use its resources, as well as the greatly increased availability of online sources, to significantly expand the book. The fourth edition will benefit from the further expansion of online databases, as well as increased interest (both popular and academic) in both the use and the study of offensive language.

I’d been doing haphazard work on the fourth edition since the third edition went to press, but in the last year, I’ve been working in earnest. There are over 1,500 new quotations; over 100 antedatings (earlier evidence for existing senses, forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about a word’s history); and over 80 new senses. […] I will also be revising the Introduction, incorporating new discoveries about the earliest known examples of fuck, and discussing the constantly shifting acceptability of offensive terms in current usage, where mainstream American newspapers have begun printing the word openly (often spurred by the frequent use of such language by prominent political figures).

As for how the rest of us can help, he says:

There are many ways. You can suggest items that should be in, preferably with good examples of usage. If you have antedatings of any of the new examples listed above, I’d love to get those. If there are particular quotations, anecdotes, or the like that you think deserve to go in, please suggest them! […] Finally, I do have a list of items I’m actively looking for. For these specific items, I already have an entry; I am looking for actual quotations. The general idea is to find “good” examples (except for antedatings, which can be anything): nothing from glossaries, nothing referring to the word as a word, nothing from “the Internet” at random. Printed examples from published texts are preferred, but anything traceable, or from sources that are well-known or reliable, is fine. Indeed, my coverage of online sources could be improved, so I would welcome evidence from major websites, prominent social media accounts, and so forth. Least preferable are totally random examples such as “I’m familiar with this,” or ones found by Googling, searching Twitter, or the like.

The list of specific items starts with cuntfuck, n. (“British use as a term of abuse: antedating 2002”) and ends with SNEFU ‘situation normal, everything fucked up’ (“any evidence not from glossaries”); visit the post for many glorious examples of wordfuckery, and of course help out if you can.


  1. I see clusterfuck is getting due recognition in The F-Word, so all is well.

  2. I’m sure we’re all eager to see the windfucker issue advanced toward a stable solution. There has been doubt about its meaning “fucker of the wind” (here at LH even). But that is exactly what it appears to be doing, as if it were hovering over a genuine feathered object of its attentions.

  3. I think The Daily Show’s

    Indecision 2008:
    Clusterf@#K to the White House

    is an interesting attestation. It was always bowdlerized on television—both visually (as you can see from how it was written) and aurally (bleeped out). However, I believe that it is well established that Jon Stuart did always actually say “clusterfuck” in the studio.

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    fuckwittery-I always thought Billy Connolly was saying “fuckweight”…

  5. cuchuflete says

    Don’t know if one particular use of “ratfuck” has made it into the corpus, nor have I looked for it online. Coffee first, then research, as dear old Uncle Elmer might have said. To ratfuck a door was/is to open it when locked out of your own college dormitory room, c 1965. Bits of plastic or wood strips were employed, along with wire coat hangers.

    Note that this is different from the fairly well documented uses of ratfuck in military and Nixonian political spheres.

    Now caffeinated, I’ve failed to find any documented door opening uses of ratfuck.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I think that in wartime Britain it was SNAFU (situation normal, all fucked up) — not SNEFU, but maybe that was used as well.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I’ve seen “a snafu” in the wild pretty often, and the explanation was as above (or “fouled”). Never seen SNEFU.

    However, I believe that it is well established that Jon St[ew]art did always actually say “clusterfuck” in the studio.

    …though it would have been a great in-joke if he actually said “clusterbleep” and that got bleeped out.

    (Alas, that’s lip-readable.)

  8. I think that in wartime Britain it was SNAFU (situation normal, all fucked up) — not SNEFU

    Yes, SNAFU was the normal form, which is why the variant is interesting.

  9. John Cowan says

    It seems to me that the two senses of ratfucking are in fact semantically unified. Using a non-key to open a locked door is certainly one species of prank.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    Partridge’s Dictionary of Catch Phrases mentions SNEFU as an “occ. var.” of SNAFU, but I can’t recall ever seeing it in the wild. The google n-gram viewer thinks it’s so rare it won’t even do a comparison against SNAFU for you.

  11. @John Cowan: Campaign ratfucking ain’t just a prank.

  12. Keith Ivey says

    And it doesn’t sound like ratfucking a door is about pranks either, if the reference is to getting into one’s own room when locked out.

  13. John Cowan says

    I doubt if the word is only applicable to opening one’s own door.

  14. Keith Ivey says

    But if it is applicable to opening one’s own door it doesn’t seem like it has any implication of pulling a prank, but cuchuflete would know better.

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