By Elena Falsini

Whether we speak it or not, or like to hear it or not, the often polarizing word “fuck” is very much part of our language and culture – and with its synonyms ranging anywhere from “make love” to “rape” or “kill,” it is certainly a word whose meaning depends as much on its inflection and tone, as it does its context.

The word “fuck” is often used in everyday conversations; however, for the most part it is not considered a very nice word to use on a regular basis. People who use it are often called foul-mouthed, potty-mouthed, or lacking vocabulary by those who don’t. On the other hand, those who use it say it is just an intensifying tool of stronger emphasis that can explain certain situations much better than the softer words generally used by the overly polite, pretentious and goodie two-shoes of the world.

To restate it for emphasis, in the mainstream of current culture, the word “fuck” can have rather obvious negative connotations, and people using it are often seen as uneducated, rude and rudimentary. Although it is a favorite among rappers, premium cable shows and harder-core comedians, the word “fuck” has not yet gained the approval of public broadcasting or television, and certainly not the religious right.

The debate over whether such an expletive should be allowed on the air has strong arguments on both sides. Often those in favor of its usage argue that society gives the F-word its power, and that in reality it is essentially like any other word – simply, a verbal representation of thought. On the other hand, people argue that allowing it to be used over the air, where children usually have access, would be a reckless policy, and breaking the standards of decency and obscenity that are currently outlined in the media regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

While the origins of the word are quite obscure, there are indeed traces of where it might have been first used in the English language, and consequently how it made its way into colloquial English.

Perhaps the oldest word for copulation by a language with documentation of existing beyond theory is the Sanskrit word yabhati.

However, the word “fuck” is an ancient word that was not written in the types of texts that it may have derived from and survived from Old English and Middle English for predictable reasons.

The word might very well originate from a scandalous 15-century poem, entitled Flen flyys, written in bastard Latin and Middle English and perhaps from where the phrase “flying fuck” was derived. The F-word, as we know it, probably made its debut in that poem in these lines:

Non sunt in celi/quia fuccant uuiuys of heli

This translated means “They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely.”

It seems that celibacy, or at least overly attempting not to fuck, has caused problems all the way back to the very origin of the word, just as much as actually fucking has sometimes caused. The word “fuck,” it appears, can be quite a paradoxical word.

Fun fact: The word “fuck” is today often used as a verb, adjective and noun.

Fuccant is pseudo-Latin or a type of slang that was originally written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise derive from Scottish, perhaps from a Scandinavian origin and further possibly from a word akin to Norwegian dialectal fukka, which means “copulate,” or from Swedish dialectal focka, which is translated as “copulate, strike, push,” and fock, that is, “penis.”

Another origin that the word “fuck” might have is from the Middle English fyke or fike, which translates to “move restlessly, fidget,” or also “dally, flirt,” and probably is from a general North Sea Germanic word. Similarly, there is the Middle Dutch fokken, and the German ficken “fuck,” which earlier meant “make quick movements to and fro, flick,” and even earlier meant “itch, scratch;” the vulgar sense attested from the 16th century. Coincidentally, many eastern religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, compare tolerating the sex urge to enduring an itch – the more you scratch it, often the worse the itch gets, and sometimes if you ignore it, the itch goes away – at least for a little while.

This German sense of the word “fuck” could be then equated to the usual sense of the F-word in Middle English or the slang terminology that means to “have sexual intercourse,” swive, from Old English swifan “to move lightly over, sweep.” However these “cannot be shown to be related” to the English word according to Oxford English Dictionary.

Although there has been a wide use of the F-word in various sections of society, especially currently, the word still remains (and has been for centuries) one of the most taboo words in the English language. It may not be surprising, when you think about it, that until quite recently, “fuck” has not even appeared in print. Still today, there are a number of euphemistic ways in which the word can be referred to in writing and in speech. Some of these are: “the F-word,” “f***,” or “f–k.” Softer derivations like “frig,” “friggin” and “freakin” have been substituted for virgin ears the same way “darn” and “dang” have been substituted for the word “damn.”

The FCC rules state, “Obscene broadcasts are prohibited at all times.” Its definition of indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” The key word here is contemporary, as what may seem obscene today can become perfectly acceptable tomorrow.

According to the FCC, indecent programming contains “patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.” Bad words generally fall under the profanity broadcast restrictions; profanity that is not allowed is defined as “including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

Like indecency, profane speech is also prohibited on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm, specifically for the protection of children that might have access to either televisions or radios at that time. The problem with the way the FCC rules are worded, is that they are not specific, for obvious reasons, because each area in the country might feel differently about matters.

As a result, this becomes problematic, because one person’s or community’s definition of what type of language they would deem as “grossly offensive” and “amount[s] to a nuisance,” could be entirely different from another’s opinion, depending on factors like cultural background and the current environment they live in. It therefore is a rather subjective judgment, especially since perhaps the most influential comedian in American history challenged its prohibition.

The first time the f-word was used on air was when that comedian, George Carlin, uttered it on one of his shows. Carlin’s famous bit, “The seven words you can never say on television,” included the word “fuck” and the phrases “mother-fucker” and “cock-sucker.”

While the first time the word was debated in a court case was in 1971, when a man wore a jacket with the words “Fuck the Draft.” He was deemed as having disturbed the peace. The case also dealt with the issue of freedom of speech.

The first time the FCC became involved and enforced their indecency policy was when singer Cher said, “So fuck ‘em” during a show broadcast on Fox. Her outbreak was unscripted, but Fox was still responsible for the fact that the word had been aired. A second time “a person named Nicole Richie” (as the ruling describes it) said, “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fucking simple” while presenting a Billboard Music Award, also happened on Fox.

It is also quite notable that when Paul McCartney was finally inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 1989, his daughter Stella, now a fashion mogul, wore a t-shirt saying “About Fucking Time” when accompanying her dad on stage to accept the honor.

The word “fuck” can be used interchangeably, and it can be argued that it may be one of the most interesting words in the English language. However, as for television and radio broadcasts, it may not be necessary for the word to be used on air. There is the issue of younger audiences who may be influenced by this. The rules that the FCC have enforced are there for a reason; if public radio and television are meant to serve the public, then they should not be corrupting its public or making it feel uncomfortable, in fact they should focus on making sure that the programming that is being broadcast can further their audiences, by for example simultaneously educating and entertaining them.

Of course, some may say fuck the FCC standards because its policies on the word “fuck” are over-sheltering the public from a regularly-used word in the English language, and said public should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to censor it or not.

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