Hmmmm… Reading Mantel’s sublime Bring Up The Bodies and really loving it but she has used the f-word twice now I think, in 126 pages. Gosh, it says something about my upbringing that I still shy away from using it save in extremis. Putting it as the title to this blog actually made me shudder a little! I am such a prude!
“let’s fuck about with Cromwell.
This comes from a chapter set very specifically on Christmas Day 1535 and, frankly, the word grates on me! I know Mantel is using modern language and not attempting a faux Shakespearean dialogue and I fully applaud that! Whilst a self-confessed prude (see above!) I understand that Cromwell, the son of a violent Putney ne’erdowell, the soldier, the merchant would have a range of choice vocabulary and our narrator reflects that. All well and good. I understand that at this precise moment, said choice lexis may be appropriate: he has just been excluded from negotiations between his King and his friend (who happens to also be the Spanish ambassador) Chapuys over his request to visit the erstwhile Queen Katherine.
But fuck? Really? It grates it really does!
So, on with a spot of research online…
Its literal sense seems to be suitably ancient – much to my chagrin – Germanic and Scandinavian words ficken, focken, fukka or fokka which no doubt arrived with Vikings and were grafted onto our mongrel tongue. There is a poem prior to 1500, at least according to Wikipedia which includes the line
non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli
which translates as a description of Friars who are not in Heaven because they’re too busy fucking the wives of Ely. And what a brilliant mongrel sentence of language! Shifts straight from Latin to English within a single breath of the speaker! I love English!!
Anyway, back to fuck. I am forced to concede that the word exists within the time of Cromwell. Indeed, there’s even a graph!
So, somewhat oddly fuck was most common in use around 1590 and 1700. Much more common then than it is now in fact. Why? To me, logically, that suggests its use was less taboo earlier and therefore more frequently employed. As records of writing was much less and skewed towards the more educated and socially adept in 1600 and 1700 it suggests that even more strongly. It makes me wonder if the explosion of twitterati and the blogosphere may have caught up! Here’s my contribution to spurious research into word frequency: fuck, fucked, fuck you, fuck off, fucking hell, fuckity fuckity fuck fuck, FUCK.
Oh dear, I’m blushing now.
But does the sense in which it’s used – as a verb meaning to toy with or to really piss off or to seriously annoy – exist in that time?
The answer is… who knows! To me it just feels too modern and contemporary. It feels too Americanised; too “Call Of Duty” to be used in the 1535 context in this sense. But this is entirely based on me and my personal, subjective reaction to it as a word.
One thing that did make me giggle was the myth that it derived from some 1800s acronym for Found Under Carnal Knowledge or Fornication Under the Consent of the King. In fact myth seems to strong a word. This explanation ignores the previous 300 years of use and is just totally silly!! One could say, a fucking joke!