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FOUR LETTER WORD

A historian thinks he’s pinpointed the oldest known use of the f-word

Flickr/Alex Brown, CC BY 2.0
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By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A British historian has stumbled upon what he believes is the earliest known use of the word “fuck” in a sexual context.

Paul Booth, a research fellow at the UK’s Keele University, found the name “Roger Fuckebythenavele” in a 1310 court document in the UK National Archives.

Booth believes that this nickname (something like “one who fucks via the naval”) was either given to poor Roger to indicate he was clueless in bed, or that he was generally an idiot (his lack of anatomical knowledge case in point).

Booth adds that because the name appears on three different dates, “Fuckebythenavele” wasn’t just a one-off joke made by the clerk in his records.

But it’s not clear that the meaning is purely sexual. The Oxford English Dictionary records (paywall) the earliest known use of “fuck” with a sexual meaning in the 16th century, with roots in the Dutch word “fokken,” meaning “to beget children,” among other things (including “to strike” and “to mock”).

There were earlier instances of the word appearing in surnames, but linguists have understood those uses with the Indo-European root meaning “to strike.”

The Oxford English Dictionary notes:

“Use in a sense ‘to strike’ could perhaps also be reflected by the surname Fuckebegger’ (1287); perhaps compare the Anglo-Norman surname Butevilein (literally ‘strike the churl or wretch’), found in the 12th and 13th centuries.”

So it’s also possible that Roger’s last name could have a non-copulatory meaning. Booth has submitted his finding to the OED, and awaits its response.

Image by Alex Brown on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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