The Evocative Power of a Word

The word fuck carries a lot of emotive weight, evoking feelings of disgust, embarrassment, arousal, anger, disdain, joy, fear, shock, relief, or surprise. Fuck acts as an incredibly powerful social signal. We can’t help but judge the user – a judgement based on their choice of the word fuck and the way in which they use it.

Fuck has the distinction of being referred to as the F word, although food and friends have been known to jump on the bandwagon. The F word was the precursor of various spin-offs, such as the C word, and it’s one of the most flexible English words in terms of grammatical function.

Win Friends by Saying Fuck

In addition to its elevated linguistic status, fuck can win you friends.

I’ll tell you three stories.

1.      The lampshade factory

When I was 29 years old, I got a job with a firm that made lampshades. I don’t remember much about the job, apart from the fact that it involved welding. The welding, however, isn’t significant to the story.

I was a shy young woman, extremely uncomfortable in social situations. My naturally anxious expression, overlaid by real anxiety, was interpreted as prudishness, and I was ignored. Being excluded from all conversation and small-talk, I felt miserably alone, hating myself for being an unlikeable person.

One of my colleagues was Barry, a man of about my age, who made a lot of noise, played the fool, and got on everyone’s nerves. Still, Barry was one of the lads.

One day, as I sat at my welding machine (or whatever it was called), not being talked to, I was struck with inspiration. Although I quite enjoyed the entertainment Barry provided, I made the decision to say, very loudly:

“Barry! Will you shut the fuck up! You’re doing my head in!”

From that day, I was accepted by my colleagues at the lampshade factory as one of the team.

2.      School staffroom

A few years later, I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Again, my shyness around other adults was taken for prudishness. The apparent naivety of these people was astonishing, but I fought against making uneducated assumptions about them; after all, I bitterly resented the uneducated assumptions they appeared to be making about me.

I must say that I’ve never come across a more narrow-minded, prejudiced group of people than in that school staffroom. Whoops! Lost the fight again.

It wasn’t unusual for a member of staff to use what they considered to be a naughty word – yes, fuck – and then clap a hand over their mouth and say, “Oh, sorry, Hazel, I didn’t see you there.”

Anyway, moving on. One day, as I queued for coffee, a couple of teachers were discussing someone we all knew. One of the teachers said something along the lines of if he was the last man on Earth … and the other one noticed me and nudged her colleague.

Although this conversation had nothing at all to do with me, I made that important decision again and said:

“Nothing would persuade me to fuck that.”

… And I was in.

3.      School kitchen

The same thing happened a third time.

It was my first day of working in the catering department of a private school. My worried expression was drawing wary looks, so this time I wasn’t going to hang about. A little bit of banter between two chefs presented an opportunity:

“Yeah, fuck off, James,” I said cheerfully.

Bingo.

Being part of this particular team was a wonderful experience, and although I didn’t stay in touch with any of my colleagues, I often think fondly of the year I spent working with them.

Etymology

The word fuck comes to English via German, and it’s generally believed that an Indo-European root was shared by Latin (pugnus: fist).

However, the etymology of the word is hard to trace because of its rarity in the written form. Fuck has become an established part of English through centuries of verbal use, but there isn’t a great deal of written documentation for etymological mapping. In the absence of hard documentation, a plethora of myths has grown up around the history of the word, like the forest that grew up around Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

Grammatical Jack-of-all-Trades

It’s actually mind-blowing when you consider the wide range of this little genius. The word’s a fucking acrobat. In Use and History of the Word Fuck, Monty Python referred to the “magical” word’s “multi-purpose application”.

Although the primary meaning of the word is to have sexual intercourse, its usage is so diverse that alternative meanings can’t really be categorised as metaphorical. The Oxford Dictionary of English provides two definitions of the verb: 1. To have sexual intercourse; and 2. To damage or ruin.

Here are some examples of Fuck in action:

He fucks his wife (transitive verb)

They’re always fucking (intransitive verb)

I fucked up (intransitive verb)

You fucked that right up (transitive verb)

Why are you fucking around? (intransitive verb)

They said they’d fuck him over (transitive verb)

Don’t fuck with me (verb with indirect object)

Fuck off (verb, imperative tense)

He’s a good fuck (noun)

You’re a fuck-up (noun)

I’ve done fuck all today (noun)

He’s a fucker (agent noun)

She’s fuckable (adjective)

I’m fucked (adjective)

This fucking car (adjective)

That was fucking awful (adverb)

Fucking awful car (submodifier)

Fuck! (exclamation)

Derivative words include: fuckwit, motherfucker, fuckhead, and abso-fucking-lutely.

I shall leave you now (fuck off), because I’m tired (fucked). It’s been lots of fun (fucking great) talking about one of the most evocative words in the English language. I won’t mess around (fuck about), but I will read this article through a couple more time to make sure I haven’t made any errors (fucked up). I really don’t want to look a twit (fuckwit).

I’ve read this through several times now, and I’ll be damned (fucked) if I can find any more errors (fuck-ups).

Have I had enough of the word fuck for today? Fuck yeah!

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