Fucking around with particles

Jesse Sheidlower, in his indispensable fuxicon The F-Word, lists the following compound verbs involving fuck:

fuck around
fuck about
fuck away
fuck off
fuck out
fuck over
fuck up

(Fuck around and fuck about are basically the North American and British versions of the same thing; fuck out is less common than the others, but it’s there.)

The first thing to note about these compound fuctures is, of course, that they are idiomatic: the words after fuck are not being used in a strictly literal sense (nor, of course, is the fuck). Compare cases where they are used literally:

I thought we could fuck around.
I thought we could fuck around 5:00.

My boyfriend just wants to fuck about.
My boyfriend just wants to fuck about ten times a day.

I don’t want you to fuck away all our money.
I don’t want you to fuck away from home on a business trip.

Could you please fuck off?
Could you please fuck off the nice clean sheets?

My dog fucked out to the backyard.
My dog fucked out in the backyard.

Don’t fuck over my friends.
Don’t fuck over there.

Your friend fucked up that relationship.
Your friend fucked up one block and down the next.

You can also make some of them transitive or intransitive at will without changing the sense (“You fucked up the cake”/“You fucked up”).

But, now, what are those post-fuck words? Many people think they’re prepositions (though away isn’t a preposition anywhere). The problem with this is that the intransitive ones don’t have a noun complement (“Don’t fuck around”), and as we have seen, the idiomatic use with an object (“Don’t fuck me around”) gives them a different sense than actually taking a noun complement (“Don’t fuck around me”).

Other people say they’re adverbs. But we run into problems with the syntax of these versus the syntax of adverbs. Compare up – which in other places is often an adverb – with the adverb gently (the * means “no one says this”):

Fuck me gently.
Fuck me up.

Fuck my friends gently.
Fuck my friends up.

Gently fuck me.
*Up fuck me.

Gently fuck my friends.
*Up fuck my friends.

*Fuck gently me.
*Fuck up me.

*Fuck gently my friends.
Fuck up my friends.

That’s three mismatches out of six. They’re not modifying the verb; they’re part of a two-part verb.

So these are commonly called particles. That’s not a great word, admittedly. It’s a bit vague, for one thing: it’s kind of linguist-ese for “I don’t know what the fuck this is.” As Bert Cappelle says in his 2005 dissertation “Particle Patterns in English” (which I am grateful to Strong Language co-fucker Stacey Dickerman for passing on to me),

Two-word units like go in, come out, open up etc. are traditionally treated as complex or ‘phrasal’ verbs—as verbs with an added non-verbal element which former grammarians have chosen to call a ‘particle’, a term painfully reflecting their lack of interest in it.

But wait, there’s more. Cappelle gets to the crux of the matter in the next sentence:

A more revealing way of looking at such combinations is to consider the particle not as an appendix to the verb but as the primary element in the combination.

Hmm. Verb doms? Let’s do a simple test for this: read my pairs of sentences aloud. Here they are again:

I thought we could fuck around.
I thought we could fuck around 5:00.

My boyfriend just wants to fuck about.
My boyfriend just wants to fuck about ten times a day.

I don’t want you to fuck away all our money.
I don’t want you to fuck away from home on a business trip.

Could you please fuck off?
Could you please fuck off the nice clean sheets?

My dog fucked out to the backyard.
My dog fucked out in the backyard.

Don’t fuck over my friends.
Don’t fuck over there.

Your friend fucked up that relationship.
Your friend fucked up one block and down the next.

Did you notice something about the intonation patterns? In the first of each pair, the idiomatic particle one, the stress always goes to the particle, not the fuck; the fuck is a lead-in beat. In the second, non-idiomatic ones, there’s a pause or disjunction between the fuck – which gets emphasis – and the adverb or preposition, which is typically less stressed.

But if the particle is the primary element, there should be a strong semantic commonality between different verbs with the same particle. Let’s compare a few other verbs with the same set of particles, bearing in mind the figurative use of fuck as ‘do a destructive or heedless thing’, and for fun I’ll toss in a fake (semantically void) verb just to help bring out what the particle contributes:

He’s going to spog around.
Why are you playing around with me?
She asked if I wanted to go around with her.
Boy, you really get around!
Don’t just fuck around.

He’s spogging about.
How are you going about it?
How is it coming about?
She has trouble getting about.
It doesn’t get done by fucking about.

He spogged them away.
We just pissed it away.
Wail away, it won’t help you.
We’ve fucked away a lot of time.

He spogged off completely.
The gun went off loudly.
The event came off well.
Everybody will get off on this.
Then we can all fuck off and have a drink.

He can spog out.
Let’s go out.
I think it’s time for me to come out.
Then it’s time for me to get out.
Why don’t you just fuck out?

He should have spogged over the thing.
That didn’t go over well because she didn’t go over the document.
It didn’t really bowl me over.
You should get over it.
I didn’t think he’d fuck over his co-workers.

Can you not spog up?
You’re looking spruced up.
That subject will come up.
It’s time to get up.
You’ll probably fuck up.

What do you think? I think there’s some support to the idea that the verb may be the vehicle but the particle is the driver. We have an off attitude arriving on a fuck bus.

One more thing I’d like to consider now while we’re on the topic: the various particles that we don’t see fuck with. Cappelle presents a list of the most common and reliable particles: about, across, ahead, along, apart, around, aside, away, back, by, down, home, in, off, on, out, over, round, through, together, up. Just for shits and giggles, and in the spirit of “Don’t fuck off, fuck on,” let’s try the rest of them out. Remember to say them with the stress on the particle. The sense may be different if you stress the fuck.

That was a hell of an insult to fuck across.

So you’re just going to fuck ahead.

Fine, if you’re just going to fuck along.

I just knew those two would fuck apart.

Don’t fuck this aside.

Dude, you need to fuck back.

His game plan is basically to fuck by.

The whole thing just fucked down.

If you’re going to fuck home every time this happens…

Then it all fucked in.

I’m here to fuck on.

Let’s try to fuck round this mess.

The whole thing totally fucked through.

It all just basically fucked together.

Some of these seem vaguely plausible, and the more times you go back and read them, though, the more plausible they are likely to seem. Others are more of a stretch and may resist assimilation for longer.

This may have something to do with the semantic qualities associated with the figurative fuck, which is destructive, dispersive, conclusive; the particles it shows up with normally – around, about, away, off, out, over, up – all involve a motion away from, or at least not towards, the initial state. Particles that more naturally lend themselves to an entropic reading, as seen by other popular verbs going with them, may seem to work better with fuck: “The deal fell through.” “It all just fucked through.” Particles that don’t have this might at most get a destructive sense: “Those two cars just fucked together at high speed” – but the influence of an obviously available literal reading can also be a factor.

Are some of these in use already? This is not all that easy to study because of other cases where the words will be seen together: “He blew it the fuck apart”; “Of all the reasons I want to fuck apart from your looks, your mind is tops.” And so on. I think it’s safe to say that they seem odd and foreign to most or all of us. The question now is whether use by a few much-read authors or much-listened-to speakers could add any of them to accepted use.

Well, it’s worth fucking around with. Fuck on!

4 thoughts on “Fucking around with particles

  1. gh0stpupp3t April 25, 2015 / 4:01 am

    “My dog fucked out to the backyard.” Holy crap that is funny!

    Like

  2. 2cupsofjoe April 25, 2015 / 5:14 am

    I think this is the first internet post written on the variations and wordplay on the word, “Fuck.” Excellent post, plus it made the moody day a bit lighter!

    Like

  3. Nancy Friedman April 25, 2015 / 4:03 pm

    “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” – a memorable line from the unforgettable “Heathers” (1988).

    Like

  4. Deryn Harris April 26, 2015 / 12:19 pm

    I rather like “fuck along”. I may have to start using it with a bad faux-British accent in place of “run along”. (Sorry, Brits, that’s just how I heard it in my mind’s ear.)

    Like

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