A choice curse

The salted butter of English

Fuck, I find, is pretty much the most pleasurable word. Whether it’s casual, emphatic, passive, idiomatic. Fucking chill. Fuck the police. This fucking guy. What the fuck?

Cousins include the Middle Dutch fokken, “to thrust,” and the Swedish dialect fókka, “to copulate.” According to linguist Kate Wiles, fuck was rare before the fifteenth century, back when it meant to strike. “If you wanted to talk about making whoopee in a dirty way, the Middle English word to use was swive.” In the early 16th century, William Dunbar included it in a poem—Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit. Rough translation: The way he was carrying on, you could tell he wanted to fuck her.

For me, fuck is a source of daily pleasure. It’s not at all obvious why I shouldn’t put it in everything. I remember a favorite professor apologizing, reluctantly, for the number of times he found something to be fucking great, or just fucking great. What other word is such fun, or gives similar mouthfeel? Fuck any fine art about usage when fuck me is so handy, fuck you so heavy, fucking-a so leavening when a moment drags.

I’ll always remember watching Eddie Murphy in Raw, or that scene in The Wire. Isn’t there something so nice about a couple fucks strung together in a single phrase? Fuck you, you fucking [noun].

Sometimes swear words are crutches for writers, suggesting an absence of imagination. Fuck doesn’t have the same glare on the page. That said, my favorite is the fuck I don’t see coming, when it surprises, then settles down with space to resound. In Stanely Tucci’s recent pandemic diary in The Atlantic, he’s writing from his house in London: “Felicity and I go over what food items need to be restocked. With four people ages 18 to 20, the amount of food, beer, and wine consumed is staggering. If there is a shortage of avocados at the local stores, it’s because we’ve eaten them all. If there is no Kerrygold butter left in the United Kingdom, it’s because it’s either in our freezer or we ate it. All of it. Just fucking ate it. Probably without even spreading it on anything.”

I mean, that’s fucking great.

The Stanley Tucci article is “Cooking Your Way Through the Pandemic”
The quote by Kate Wiles is from her 2014 article, “On the Origin of Fuck”
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