Like I’m talking to a sexually intercoursing wall!

Plenty has been penned about the history, derivation, and usage of the word “fuck,” so there is no need to rehash it here. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of it that while mentioned is mostly glossed over. In English, at least, “fuck” is the most mercurial of swear words because it has escaped and run from the confines of its sexual root. While every other European language has its own word for “fuck,” English appears to be unique in its more universal application. Let’s take the following joke as an example:

In Jerusalem, a female journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall, and there he was! She watched him pray, and after about forty-five minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.

“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?

“For about fifty years.”

“Fifty years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”

“I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs. I pray for all hatred to stop, and I pray for our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”

“How do you feel after doing this for fifty years?

“Like I’m talking to a fucking wall.”

To understand the uniqueness of this joke in English, try literally translating it into any other European language. The punch line would make no sense to a Frenchman. Although he does have a respective—or dis-respective—verb “foutre” and the milder “baiser,” he would wonder why someone is referring to intercourse with a wall. “That fucking wall” would be something along the lines of “cette putain de mur” in French, or “that whore of a wall,” and Spanish would be similar. The French are also quite enamored of shit—“vous me faites chier,” which literally means “you make me shit,” but implies that “you bore me.” The sacrosanct “fucking” is reserved for, well, “fucking.”

But our English “fuck” is beginning to make inroads into other languages. This is particularly more common in countries where English is a second language, such as Holland or Norway. If you watch an episode of Lilyhammer, you will hear a character speak an entire diatribe in Norwegian, save for the English adjective “fucking.” Very recently the Dutch have purloined our precious “fucking” as seen in Hou je fokking bek (Shut your fucking beak!). I say purloined because the actual word for “fuck” in Dutch is neuken and not fokken, or whatever. (I think the latter was sort of a German tri-plane, but I’m not betting on it.)

While fuck’s nonsexual use as an adjective, noun, verb, or adverb in English is omnipresent, it is simply absent from other tongues as such. For the hundreds of insults or compliments that you will dredge up from other tongues, you will not find one that directly completely evolves from our sexually rooted “fuck” and meanders into countless other directions. To illustrate the asexuality of the English “fuck,” we turn to this salty morsel:

A man is talking to his friend about a girl he met the night before.
“I went to the fucking pub and saw this fucking beautiful girl. I thought, ‘Fucking hell, she’s fucking gorgeous.’”

“What happened then?” asks his friend.

“I bought her a fucking drink and started fucking talking to her,” he says.

“What happened then?” asks his friend again.

“She said she wanted to leave, so we tried to get a fucking cab but fucking ended up walking all the way to her fucking flat. Then she asked me in for a fucking drink.”

“What happened then?”

“We made love.”

Similarly, Bill Bryson found it odd that “fuck” was also used as a general expletive for anger: “It is a strange and little-noted idiosyncrasy of our tongue that when we wish to express extreme fury we entreat the object of our rage to undertake an anatomical impossibility or, still, to engage in the one activity that is bound to give him more pleasure than anything else.”

This departure from the literal nonsexual denotation is nothing new for the English speaker. Poring over Jesse Sheidlower’s encyclopedic The F Word, it would appear that the word began to emerge as something other than a reference to copulation around the middle to late nineteenth century. Considering the widespread and diverse usage of the word today, it is astonishing that a verb that began as a term for a sexual act evolved into an all-embracing generic epithet that is almost patently devoid of sexuality. Is there anything remotely sexual about any of the following phrases? At the same time, is there any single word malleable enough that could be substituted for “fuck”?

“Oh you’ve gone and fucked it now!” (finite verb)
“Stop fucking around. We’ve got to get this job done!” (gerund)
“Try not to fuck up this time!” (infinitive)
“Don’t fuck with me, mate!” (negative command)
“Get the fuck out of here!” (noun)
“That’s fucking ridiculous!” (adverb)
“Fuck! That’s a big dog!” (exclamation)

It’s the one magical word that—just by its sound—can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love.
To see how far the word has strayed from its source for most of us, someone scribbled a demeaning epithet about a group of women on a college campus, referring to them as “fucking nymphomaniacs.” A more literal wag scrawled beneath it, “Aren’t they all?”

And so it is with the recent rise in the proliferation of the nonsexual “fuck” that two entirely different ends have been attained. On one side it may be seen as a liberating force that has broken the yoke of a puritanical heritage by allowing us to freely express ourselves without the shame of sexual recrimination. At the same time it is presenting an endless wellspring for a vast array of casual expletives that in no way reflect the very roots whence they sprang. As a means of expression, “fuck” has a continually growing repertoire that is without equal: “dumbfuck,” “fuckbrain,” “clusterfuck,” or to “Fuck a duck,” “monkey or pig fuck,” or “take a flying fuck at the moon.” Just the number of uses that are humorous indicates that we have attempted to throw all of our inherited guilt over the four-letter word to the four winds.

Repression may have placed a severe onus on the word as a sexual act in the past, but contemporary speakers have mostly reduced the sexual import, and the accompanying taboo. As a final aside, I cannot resist quoting from the last episode of season seven of Dexter, aptly titled Surprise, Motherfucker! The supremely potty-mouthed Debra Morgan, who cannot seem to have a conversation without a seemingly mandatory swear word, covered both bases with the truly unique, “Well fuck Jesus on a cracker!” Excuse me?

22 thoughts on “Like I’m talking to a sexually intercoursing wall!

  1. realgirl2 April 4, 2015 / 7:10 pm

    And lots of umm……. Ways to say f***😂😂😂😂


  2. letterstotheunnamed April 4, 2015 / 11:20 pm

    Well, I pretty much loved this. Yes.


  3. rchirico221b April 5, 2015 / 2:44 am

    Despite my familiarity with several European languages, Hungarian is not one. I am therefore happy to reproduce an email I received from Arpad Farkas:

    I happen to be a native speaker of Hungarian, a language notorious for its vast array of expletives, and I think we do use the Hungarian equivalents of “fuck” and “fucking” in a non-sexual sense to express anger, annoyance and frustration. I prefer to refrain from swearing, but I believe the adverbial use of “fucking” is ubiquitous in Hungarian. On a scorching day, for instance, young men may say, “Kibaszott meleg van,” which translates as, “It’s fucking hot,” but the sentence would not convey sexual connotations. The expletive is subject to morphological change depending on whether it is used as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb, but all of these words derive from the stem “basz,” which is Hungarian for “fuck.”


  4. queasypaddy April 6, 2015 / 7:52 am

    Read any of Roddy Doyle’s books and you’ll see how the word is used here in Ireland.


  5. ojahnn April 6, 2015 / 11:27 am

    I’m German, and if I was talking about a fucking wall it’d be “diese verfickte Wand”.
    “verfickt” is more or less a past participle form. But the prefix ver- usually stands for something you might translate as mis-. So I’d be talking about a mis-fucked wall. Neat, huh?

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wyethia April 6, 2015 / 12:51 pm

    The Mexican Spanish chingado conveys some of the same idea as the adjective “fucking” but more in the sense of being “fucked over”, although it has been used to refer to a violent, non-consensual sexual act. Octavio Paz’ essay Hijos de La Malinche (1950) is a very thorough analysis of the verb chingar and all its derivatives. Even more so than “fuck”, it seems to have lost its sexual connotation I think the noun form “chingadera” might be its most popular form at present, having a meaning equivalent to “thingy” as in “Pásame la chingadera”; literally, pass me the fucker.

    Click to access sonsofmalinche.pdf

    In English, it seems that there has been a progression from “hell” to “shit” to “fuck” in expressions such as “guilty as ____” or “sick as___”. Have “hell” and “shit” lost their punch from overuse? If so, what will replace “fuck”?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. harlowandtwist April 7, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    I’m taking a freedom of speech law class this semester and you can imagine obscenities comes up! There is a great documentary that our teacher recommended it’s called f*** by Steve Anderson. May be of interest to you !

    Liked by 1 person

    • rchirico221b April 7, 2015 / 2:19 pm

      Thanks. I know it well and reference it in my book “Damn! A Cultural History of Swearing in Modern America.” You should have a look.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. dogbeak April 7, 2015 / 8:50 pm

    Your Dutch fokken is a real word, meaning ‘to breed’. Thus, a dog breeder is known about these parts as a honden fokker.


    • lievenm April 9, 2015 / 6:05 am

      But in the phrase ‘fokking bek’ there is an influence of English. The normal participle ending in Dutch isn’t ‘-ing’ but ‘-end’ so normal Dutch would be ‘fokkende bek.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. phanmo April 8, 2015 / 7:23 am

    As an anglophone Canadian living in France, (and living in French) I’m often frustrated by the lack of an fucking equivalent.

    I’m partial to the sentence “Fucking fuck, that fucking fucker’s fucked!”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Eric April 8, 2015 / 2:32 pm

    If you watch an episode of Lilyhammer, you will hear a character speak an entire diatribe in Norwegian, save for the English adjective “fucking.” Very recently the Dutch have purloined our precious “fucking” as seen in “Hou je fokking bek!”

    Fucking is also similarly common in Spanglish for its expressiveness and grammatical versatility.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. kcarr642 April 10, 2015 / 6:03 pm

    This is so…fucking amazing. Well-written, informative, really professional, AND entertaining! You have mad writing skills. I read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue a little while ago and I really, really enjoyed this article. I’m so glad I found your blog and I’m stoked to read more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rob Chirico April 10, 2015 / 7:03 pm

      Many thanks. Bill is one of my heroes, and a very nice guy as well. I mention him several times in my book “Damn!” and he was quite pleased to be cited–as if he needs the plugs!


  12. maceochi May 3, 2015 / 9:29 pm

    In the wall example, Russian would use a word meaning fuck, the adjective ёбаный (yobaniy), literally ‘fucked’, the past participle of the verb.


  13. Rob Chirico May 4, 2015 / 2:41 pm

    Whenever anything good or bad happened, my Russian father-in-law was wont to say Yób tvoyú mat’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s