"It comes from the British cops, when they were booking somebody for doing it," assured Roy, the neighborhood know-it-all. "They stamped it on the papers. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Get it?"
In later years would come other versions. One was that it was a conjugation of an old Saxon verb "ficken," which meant "to strike."
The word was in the news recently. An article in this journal discussed the practice of the daily newspaper in banning the F-word in their email correspondence.
Though email makes no sense to me whatever, the article did get me to thinking about that word.
The test of good taste once resided in our dictionaries; if the word wasn't in a dictionary, it wasn't appropriate for publication or polite company. But now the F-word is indeed in the Mother of All Dictionaries, page 1,037 of the Oxford English. And in addition to its primary definition, it lists these meanings: "Ruin, spoil, exhaust, wear out."
The hairy-chested Hemingway never used it in any of his short stories. James Jones managed to write a best-selling novel about life in an army barracks without using it, even though it gets used in such a place an average of 619 times a minute.
It was another war novel, The Naked and the Dead, where Norman Mailer broke literary tradition by almost using the word. "Fug" was Mailer's best effort, and it caused quite a stir in 1947.
Not anymore. Now it suffers from over-use. The Osbournes. College newspapers. Kindergarten plays?
Still, despite its devaluation, there is something about the word that makes it indispensable to the language. Especially the spoken language. Maybe it's the slight scraping of the front teeth over the lower lip at the start of the word and the great feeling in the back of the throat at the end of it that makes for its unending popularity. Of course, you could get the same effect by saying "frank" over and over, but the applications for that word are fairly limited.
Not so with the F-word. Like the deed itself, the word can be enjoyed with great variety, particularly with words which indicate direction; e.g. "up," "over," "around" and "off." Plus -- this cannot be truthfully denied -- the word can add a powerful emphasis to casual speech.
Me myself, I've always eschewed using the word in print, and my natural reticence has always been aided by the persistent follies of policies. This journal, for example, does not spell out the F-word.
That job of censorious correction is the task of an editor, and it's partly to make that task ever more troubling that I hereby offer the following samples of particularly appropriate usage. Such a catalog also unburdens me of repressive self-censorship by saying the word so many times it loses some of its power.
Finally, there are times when no other word can quite do the f--king job. ...
· (General George Custer) Where the f--k did all these Indians come from?
· (While waiting for the signal to change on Airline Drive and Clearview Parkway, any direction, the second hour) This light's gotta be f--king broke.
· (First guy in America to see a VW Bug) Who the f--k would be seen in one of those?
· (On seeing a new car painted that bright yellow that catches everyone's eye) Who would want a car the color of f--king Tweety Bird?
· (Regards your daughter's boyfriend, about to be Dutch-treated on their third-anniversary date) When's that little f--k gonna get a job?
· (Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette, as the mob poured into the Tuilieres) We're royally f--ked.
· (On examining your front fender, which now resembles a Surrealist sculpture) I gotta quit f--king drinking.
· (Anyone from south Louisiana) I know everything in the universe has its place, but could somebody please tell me what f--king good are mosquitoes?
· (On hearing the truly unbelievable, say, the WorldCom official whose $15 million estate in Boca Raton is exempt via Florida's liberal bankruptcy laws) Why, f--k a duck!
· (After watching our president change positions three times in a week while trying to formulate a foreign policy) Who the f--k died and left him in charge?
· (On hearing something stupendously stupid, like when those two Louisiana wardens built those golf courses at their prisons so as to better prepare their inmates for post-jail employment) What, do I look f--king stupid?
But, after all, it is Louisiana. Who gives a f--k?