How did the modern usage of the F-Word come about?

The “f-word” (f–k), is quite an old word dating back centuries, however from what I understand it did not become a common all encompassing curse word until the 20th century. Prior to this period it referred almost solely to the act of sex and was not used how we would use it today. Whereby in addition to its sexual connotation it’s used as just a general curse word that could pepper any sentence or be used to add shock/impact to a point or express frustration etc.

I’ve heard this changed during the world war period (1 and 2) but why only then and what was it about that period and perhaps those soldiers that altered the way we use the f-word?

i don’t think your understanding is correct. It has been used as a general curse word for a very long time. (I base this opinion on an edition of the BBC radio show Fry’s English Delight, specifically concerned with the word “fuck”, that I recently heard. Unfortunately, the streaming audio of the program does not seem to be currently available. There seems to be a brief clip from the show available at my link, but I do not know if it is pertinent.)

Hmm, there may be differing opinions on this?

I have heard that the modern way we use the “f-word” i.e not just in a sexual connotation is a 20th century phenomena. To my understanding the “general way” we use the f-word today replaced more religious oriented blasphemy as the way most people cursed let’s say 150+ years ago.

I believe the creator of Deadwood a show noted for its apparent use of anachronistic language, detailed how in the old west period the most shocking vile curses people at the time used, were almost all related to blasphemous language and would actually appear quaint to us today.

This Slate article seems to address the question pretty well.

For a somewhat less serious article on the subject, with insights provided by Wikipedia vandals, google “Fuck: A Vandal’s Etymology”.

Darn had lost it’s impact.

The most shocking language in olden times may have been the blasphemies, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t use other vulgarities too.

Here are the dates of the various definitions from the OED:


  1. fornication – 1513
  2. To have sex with – 1500
  3. To have sex other than vaginal intercourse – 1680
  4. To ruin – 1776
  5. To cheat – 1866
  6. As an intensifier expressing annoyance – 1922

Go fuck yourself – 1895
Fuck you – 1916
Fuck it - 1922
Fuck me – 1929
to fuck about – c1890
To fuck around (not sex related) – 1929
To fuck around (promiscuity) - 1931
to fuck off – 1929
To fuck up (make a mistake) – 1863

Sexual intercourse - 1663
Someone skilled in intercourse – 1870
A worthless person – 1929
As an intensifier (what the fuck?) – 1934

Not give a fuck – 1879
To fuck (meaning a great deal ) – 1919
like fuck – 1938

As an interjection: 1929.

These dates are undoubtedly later than their first use.

So the word certainly meant much more than just sexual intercourse prior to the 20th century. The use of it as an interjection seems to be a 20th century change and there does seem to be an increase in use between the world wars.

This is an oldie but a goody: Analysis of the word.
I love the Joan of Arc: “I don’t suppose it’s going to fucking rain?” :slight_smile:

Man, whoever wrote that analysis doesn’t know fuck about grammar.

1: “Mary fucked John” and “John was fucked by Mary” are both transitive. The actual difference between those two is that the first is active and the second is passive. An actual intransitive use would be “John and Mary fucked”.

2: In both “John really gives a fuck” and “Mary doesn’t really give a fuck”, “fuck” is a noun, not a verb at all. “Give a fuck” is a verb phrase, but in both cases it’s active.

3: While it’s correct that it’s an adverb in “Mary is fucking interested in John” (since “fucking” is modifying the adjective “interested”), it’s also an adverb in “Mary is fucking beautiful” (modifying the adjective “beautiful”). It’s also an inflected form of the word, and it’s hardly remarkable that a word might change parts of speech in an inflected form, since most words have inflected forms that do that. “Fucking” could be used as an adjective as, for instance, in “Look at all that fucking snow!”. The only case I know of where uninflected “fuck” is used as an adjective is in the phrase “fuck all”.

4: While it’s correct to say that it’s an interjection in “Fuck! I’m late for my date with Mary.”, it’s also used as an interjection, not a conjunction in “John is ugly, fuck, he’s also stupid.” (which should probably punctuated with a semicolon after “ugly”).