What the fuck is the “A” in “fucking A”?

Swearing loves the alphabet – or euphemisms for swearing do, at least. To avoid saying fuck outright, we might just drop an f bomb, sidestep with the f word, or register ‘initial’ reactions with WTF. Some swears play with spelling: see you next Tuesday, say. Yet others, including a number originating from military expressions, are acronyms: snafu, or Situation Normal: All Fucked UpThat’s no BS, an abbreviation of bullshit that Mark Peters has written a whole damn book on.

But what about fucking A? What is this doing? Is it standing in for another swearword? What the fuck is this A in fucking A?

First off, what the fuck does the expression fucking A even mean? It’s versatile, as any fan of The Big Lebowski can tell you. As I hear and use it in American English today, fucking A – or, more often, fuckin’ A – largely functions as an interjection. It can express excitement. You got the promotion? Fucking A, man! It can vent frustration. Dude, you drank my last can of LaCroix? Fucking A. 

But fucking A does a lot of its work announcing a kind of agreement – a subtle, knowing, or sympathizing kind of agreement, if my ears are any measure. It figures humorously in a scene in Mike Judge’s 1999 Office Space, when disillusioned cubicle drone Peter Gibbons finally finds contentment:

All right, so what the fuck is the A in fucking A? There has been a lot of speculation for what it represents. Some see it as standing in for other swearwords: assasshole, or, pointing to a source in British English, arse. Speaking of British English, another effort claims fucking A comes from fuck all and Fanny Adams. But why abbreviate ass and not fucking? On the American Dialect Society’s email discussion list, others have reported fuck an A or a riff on the Flying-A gas stations. Evidence is lacking for these explanations.

The written record of fucking A grounds the expression in the 1940s, especially as used by US soldiers during World War II to express emphatic, intensive assent. The first citation Jesse Sheidlower provides in his sweary essential, The F-Word, comes from a passage in Norman Mailer’s 1948 The Naked and the Dead: “‘You’re fuggin ay,’ Gallagher snorted.” (This fug has its own interesting story to tell.) Here, the character is conveying a sense of You’re totally right or absolutely correct.

So, what’s so right about fucking A? As Sheidlower suggests, fucking A may have been taken from phrases like “You’re fucking A-number-one right.” This makes fucking an intensifierAnd this makes A shorted from the adjectival expression, A-number-one, which had been signifying something first-class or outstanding in American English at least a 100 years prior, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED dates A-number-one (or A No.1) back to 1838 and roots it in A1which Lloyd’s Register in London famously used to classify ships in the best conditions. This A, of course, enjoys its distinction due to its esteemed position in the alphabet.

Sheidlower also notes fucking A can be used as an adverb and infix, as well as  in the expression You’re fucking-A well told. (Fucking well told is another expression for absolutely right, according to the Dictionary of American Slang.) And the expression, of course, has evolved over the years, though it still retains its affirmative character. Even when expressed in dismay, I think fucking A still can take a see-this-from-my-perspective plea.

Speaking of affirmative, there are yet other suggestions for its origin. Two also root the expression in the US military: one argues that the A stands for affirmative, used in aviation; the other that the stands for able, which named the letter A in the US military radio alphabet used during Wold War II. Another, fucking amen, underscores the expression’s sense of “heartfelt agreement,” as the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang glosses the expression. Fucking aye and fucking A-OK have also been proposed.

Ultimately, we’re not absolutely sure what the A in fucking A is. But, if Sheidlower’s suggestion is correct, the A could be just that: the letter A.

Fuckin’ A, fucking A.

***

Clarification: Jesse Sheidlower credits the suggestion that fucking A is short for fucking A-number-one to Jonathan Lighter in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

For more on swearing in the military, take in Rob Chirico’s “You’re in the fucking army now.” I also previously did a short piece on the expression “broke dick,” which also has military connections. And for more on the use of abbreviations in swearing, enjoy Stan Carey’s “OMFG! Sweary abbreviations FTFW.”

44 thoughts on “What the fuck is the “A” in “fucking A”?

  1. John Cowan November 13, 2015 / 11:32 am

    In Spider Robinson’s novel Night of Power, one of the characters frequently says “Fuckin’ A!” to express astonishment (a meaning you don’t discuss above). As the night goes on and more and more astonishing things happen, this seems to wear out, and he switches to “Fuckin’ B!” and finally “Fuckin’ C!”. This is a literary conceit, of course, but I like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • John Kelly November 13, 2015 / 3:18 pm

      Fuckin’ D! I subsumed the sense of “astonishment” under my brief discussion of its interjectional excitement, but one should never assume. That’s an excellent example: I like that, too.

      Like

    • Johnny Mac November 23, 2016 / 3:06 am

      If your Canadian you get this – it started here Fuckin Eh????

      Like

  2. Russell November 13, 2015 / 11:42 am

    I grew up in New Jersey, where this old joke is told:
    “Do you know the Jersey alphabet?”
    “No.”
    “Fuckin’ A, Fuckin’ B, Fuckin’ C…”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Mark Kevin Smith November 13, 2015 / 1:44 pm

      I lived in NY for a long time and fuck is one of the only word they use often, but I never heard them say fucking a. However I do sometimes. But,
      you fuckers is my favorite.

      Liked by 1 person

    • John Kelly November 13, 2015 / 3:23 pm

      Ha! That’ll definitely get the kids to learn their alphabet.

      Like

    • junbuggfs November 26, 2015 / 5:48 am

      In the Pacific Island’s, all you hear is YOU FUCKA or FUCKA I BUST YOU UP or reversed FUCKA YOU. That’s why some letters are missing in the Island’s Alphabet, lol & i’m PI…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cait K November 13, 2015 / 1:41 pm

    As a Canadian, I always thought that the expression was “fuckin’ eh” until my American friend messaged it to me one day as “fuckin’ A”. Having thought about it, I guess I’m more likely to use “fuckin’ eh” as agreement or exclamation rather than an agreement seeker, which is usually how I use “eh”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • sesquiotic November 19, 2015 / 3:46 pm

      Ditto here. I grew up knowing it as “fuckin’ eh!” and seeing it spelled that way too. On occasions where I saw “fuckin’ A” I assumed it was an indication of reduced literacy. Go figure.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Rob Nimmo February 1, 2017 / 9:12 am

        I would think that as long as the apostrophe is included, the literacy level shouldn’t be considered reduced… 😉

        Like

    • syoung1999 November 29, 2015 / 2:44 pm

      I too have to agree with the “eh” spelling. Originally (as I recall) from Saturday Night Live skits… Bob and Doug McKenzie, eh! As in “Good Day, eh”. Definitely a Canadian tradition.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jesse Sheidlower November 13, 2015 / 2:02 pm

    Thanks for the extensive acknowledgement. The suggestion that _fucking A_ is short for _fucking A-number-one_ was originally made by Jonathan Lighter in the relevant entry in HDAS.

    Like

    • John Kelly November 13, 2015 / 8:12 pm

      Jesse, thank you for this clarification/edification! I’ll update the post.

      Like

  5. AA Payson November 13, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    Grew up and New England, where we always said, “fahkin’ A”. Depending on the situation, the ‘ah’ sound elongated to show level of disgust or disdain: “I gatta go to work early tomorrow, faaaaahkin’ A! Faaahkin’ snow is pilin’ up”

    I’ve often wondered what the “A” meant as well. Thinking along the lines of a British derivation, maybe it came from “aye” that is used sometimes at the ends of sentences? Not as pointed as a “Hey, pay attention!” But more like some sort of modifier where the “aye” is more like a “huh” or “okay”. Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to think that “A” is just a horked up loogey away from from “Fucking A”?

    Just a thought…

    Like

  6. Bob N November 13, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    Interesting. Among my high school/college buddies (Michigan in the 1980s) I think there was a general understanding that the A was short for “awesome.” But this makes it clear it didn’t start that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. James Slick November 13, 2015 / 3:32 pm

    I’ve always used “fuckin’ a” as an affirmative. I have also heard many times that it along with “balls to the wall” were from World War 2 American (and perhaps British) avation. If true than I Say, Fuckin’ A!

    Like

    • Jesse Sheidlower November 13, 2015 / 4:08 pm

      No, “balls to the wall” is Vietnam-era, and is not related to the testicles (though some people do make that association).

      Liked by 1 person

      • James Slick November 13, 2015 / 4:24 pm

        Ok, Having grown up in the ’70s, I guess I should have known it was the Vietnam War, As far a the actual “balls” I always thought they were the round ends of the engine throttle controls of a plane being pushed all the way open (toward the front “wall”) of the cockpit. I’m probably not using any correct avation terms, not being a pilot! Thanx!

        Like

  8. John Stover November 13, 2015 / 3:48 pm

    Any possible reference to Hester’s Scarlet Letter?

    Like

  9. Todd Duffey Writes on Things November 13, 2015 / 5:22 pm

    “Hey, get a room, you two!” (Flips them off) – The Chotchkie’s Waiter (Me)

    Like

    • Todd Duffey Writes on Things November 13, 2015 / 5:23 pm

      Great journalistic writing, Strong Language! Always fun seeing what you’ve dug up!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. cynthiamvoss November 13, 2015 / 7:38 pm

    Interesting stuff! I love the phrase Fuckin’ A, and enjoy its many uses, to express agreement, disappointment, frustration, etc. I’ve always wondered what the A meant but never bothered to look it up. Now to find out what the H means in Jesus H Christ, something else I enjoy saying but don’t really know why.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Chips November 16, 2015 / 11:06 am

    Heard this first in the late 80s, and was always as a strong affirmative. “Fuckin’ A!”, this is from Australia. Although undoubtedly imported from the US, in Australian slang may well have been spelt “Fuckin’ eh!”–not necessarily implying the letter “A”, as “eh” is used as an intensifier especially in northern Queensland. There is, though, a variant here of “Fuckin’ Ace!”, which is not dissimilar to the “number one” notion noted above.

    Like

    • sesquiotic November 19, 2015 / 3:48 pm

      Ah, more evidence for a “fuckin’ eh!” origin! No one would ever think a well-known swear would start in Canada, but Australia, well, sure.

      Like

  12. rsteinmetz70112 November 19, 2015 / 1:57 pm

    In military parlance affirmative is frequently exaggerated as A-firmative. I vote for that origin.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. singlemumandotherstuff December 15, 2015 / 12:54 am

    Interesting, I’m from the Isle of Wight in England and I’ve always taken the ‘A’ to mean yes (like “fucking yesss” or positive like “fucking awesome!) it can be used sarcastically too when you got literal shit to clean up or some shit haha! I love that expression on the end of most sentences, “I love cats, and shit” “it’s QOTSA or some shit” not meaning shit, just meaning other things/stuff… I see you have a shit post, I’ll get on that!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Byron Ward June 26, 2016 / 2:32 pm

    ac·knowl·edge

    əkˈnäləj/

    verb

    1.

    accept or admit the existence or truth of.

    “the plight of the refugees was acknowledged by the authorities”

    synonyms:admit, accept, grant, allow, concede,accede to, confess, own, recognize

    “the government acknowledged the need to begin talks”

    2.

    (of a body of opinion) recognize the fact or importance or quality of.

    “the art world has begun to acknowledge his genius”

    Military radio operator phraseology. Had Fuck added for effect.

    Used in a sentence …did the round impact on those fuckin goods private? Fuckin A sarge . Followed by hooah on a fuckin good day.

    Like

    • John Kelly June 30, 2016 / 7:53 am

      This is the first I’ve come across the ‘A’ is for ‘acknowledge’, which resonates with 1) other military-based theories and specifically 2) the ‘affirmative’ hypothesis. Is ‘acknowledge’ used in a particular military radio (cf. aviators specific use of ‘affirmative’)?

      Like

  15. Alan Carmack November 28, 2016 / 5:37 pm

    My favorite, or maybe I should say what for me is the iconic, use of Fucking-A is from the 1978 movie ‘The Deer Hunter,” where it’s used frequently among the banter of the group of friends that includes Michael, Axel, etc. I hadn’t heard or noticed the term previous to that (which I first watched at least a decade after the film was released), so I was trying to decipher the A part. Like from something said earlier in the movie, like Fucking-Ass; but I don’t think this is the case. I finally just settled from the inflection & contexts in which it was said to mean something like Fuck yeah. Perhaps A is not short for anything but is similar to its use in A-OK, one theory for which is that preceding OK with A made ‘strengthened’ the phrase and made it more intelligible over weak radio broadcasts. Whether true or not, the A certainly adds an emphasis or certainly sounds stronger then Fucking yes or Fucking Right. So the secret may just be in the sound of A itself.

    Like

    • John Kelly November 30, 2016 / 5:27 pm

      “Deer Hunter” indeed provides many a memorable example of “fucking A.” Its plot and setting would also jibe with its early military appearances.

      Like

    • Terry Jacks June 24, 2017 / 4:03 am

      We were using fuckin’ A in LA in 1970. It was a well known phrase used a lot by transplants from the NYC area to California.

      Like

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s