Monday, September 17, 2012

What the f...?

I recently received one of those widely distributed emails containing Powerpoint presentations with all sorts of ostensibly little-known fun facts, the sort of thing that tries to make you feel that you are learning something by reading it and therefore not thoroughly wasting your time.  And, on the surface, the “facts” are sort of fun: all polar bears are left-pawed, pigs have 30-minute orgasms, and so on.  But the “fact” that caught my eye was this one: the word “fuck” originated from an acronym

The slide states, as fact, that in ancient England no one could have sex without the express permission of the king.  Therefore, couples having sex would hang a placard on their door on which was printed “F.U.C.K. - Fornication Under Consent of the King”.  Hence, that’s where the word “fuck” came from.  Isn’t it great to know this cool, fun fact?

The problem is that as cool and fun as the explanation may be, it is just plain wrong.  And it only takes a couple of clicks to debunk it.  With some help from, (articles making basically the same point may be found here and here) let me count the ways:

1.  Acronyms did not become commonly used words until the 20th century.

2.  Just a moment’s thought reveals the absurdity of the notion that people would need their king’s consent to have sex.  Just for starters imagine the logistics involved, the time that the king would need to invest granting such consents and the impossibility of enforcement.

3. The word “fornication” has, since its origins, referred specifically to sexual activity outside of marriage.  Therefore, the supposed placard would be inaccurate when applied to married couples wishing to have sex.

The truth of the matter is that, unexcitingly perhaps, the word “fuck”, like most other words, crept into the English language from other tongues, most likely Germanic languages.  The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang cites the Middle Dutch “fokken” (to thrust, copulate with), the Norwegian dialect “fukka” (to copulate) or the Swedish dialect “focka” (to strike, push, copulate) or “fock” (penis).

Even today, when so much of the world’s knowledge is instantly available to most of us, we tend to take things at face value, particularly when they are presented to us in writing.  Canards are circulated and perpetuated, and misinformation runs rampant.  While universally available instant communication has accelerated the proliferation of disinformation, universally available information has not had the opposite effect.

And, by the way, although pig's orgasms do last up to 15 minutes, polar bears are not left-pawed.