FORNICATE UNDER command of the king

A Brief History of the Word FUCK



By Keisha Mitchell       

Fuck it. Something we all like to do, or resign to saying every now and again when we just don’t care any longer. However, have you ever taken a moment to look at the word “Fuck”, let it’s profane essence roll over your tongue in search of it’s etymology rather than letting it roll off in passion? Where did a word so commonly used it was noted by the Oxford Dictionary as one of the most used words in the English language, come from?


“...There are virtually no recorded (written) instances of the word before the 15th century. The other problem with that theory is that “Fuck” is not of English origin, rather related to Germanic Dutch, and Swedish words that mean to “Strike” or “Move about back and forth”. ”

 Most of us have heard the tale of the monarch who sat atop his throne somewhere in England during the dark ages when the bubonic plague (a.k.a the black death) had reduced Europes’ population by more than almost 2/3rds of it’s original residents. Trying to find a way to recalibrate the birth-to-death ratio and replenish his ravaged country, he decreed an executive order for all subjects under his reign to “f.u.c.k” i.e; “fornicate under command of the king”.  Sounds good, but not quite true. The reason for this is that the black plague took place somewhere around the 14th century and there are virtually no recorded (written) instances of the word before the 15th century. The other problem with that theory is that “Fuck” is not of English origin, rather related to Germanic Dutch, and Swedish words that mean to “Strike” or “Move about back and forth”. The English being the controlling culture during the middle ages would have had no reason to borrow words from the cultures they were trying to assimilate and subdue, making it reasonable to assume the aforementioned languages borrowed this word from their former conquerors, the Vikings.   It is plausible that if people were using the word fuck, it was too rude or taboo to be written down. In the 16th century, Fuck made it’s first written appearance in the texts of a Latin orator, Cicero.

Cicero was transcribing for a monk who mentioned “Ol’ Fukin Abbot”. The context in which he means this (pejoratively or if he’s referencing the monks ‘sexual appetite) isn’t entirely clear, yet by the end of the 16th century Fuck could be found scribbled on many texts and used throughout common English lore and ballads.  A colloquial English-Italian dictionary published by an Italian named John Florio is full of fucks and even has personified forms of the verb/adj. For instance, “fottere” refers to the act of sex as well as to occupy, to jape, or to swive (connive) while a ”fottrice” is a female who engages in these activities, and a fottitore” is her male counterpart. Even still, it is important to note that the word fuck did not have to mean simply sex, or even be used as an expression of displeasure, rather it was just a direct and fairly impolite way to address those things. It wasn’t until the 19th century that fuck developed into what we know it as today, a crude, sometimes cool way to be vulgar. A 300 year incubation and cultivation in culture saw the word transition from oral obscurity to arguably the Western worlds’ favorite word.   

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