When fucks fly

What exactly is a flying fuck? And why does this fuck fly?

ThinkGeek’s remote-controlled Flying Fuck. The manufacturer recommends it for ages 6 and up. Image from Amazon.com.

Flying fuck enjoys many fun literal interpretations. Gadget-heads might like the remote-controlled helicopter featured above, craftier folk this flying fuck lovingly fashioned from “wire hate,” both as Nancy Friedman shared with me.

Urban Dictionary offers a number of humorous entries for flying fuck, too, including a rare, African “flightless bird” and a rather acrobatic sex act. Speaking of birds, some do hook up mid-flight (at least as part of courtship) – not unlike the more adventurous frequent fliers among us. Creativity (and Mother Nature) aside, the earliest record of flying fuck is, in fact, a literal one. But let’s save the best for last.

There are actually two main species, if you will, of flying fucks: to not give a flying fuck and to go take a flying fuck.

First, and more commonly, we can say we don’t give a flying fuck. In this case, we really don’t care. If the American Dialect Society’s (ADS) recent vote for the 2015 Word of the Year is any measure, as Nancy Friedman recently covered here, zero fucks given is a notable synonym for not giving a flying fuck today.

In The F-Word, Jesse Sheidlower first cites this flying fuck in James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. The novel was published in 1951 but was set in 1941 Hawaii. After reading his poem “The Re-enlistment Blues,” solider Slade says: “I don’t give a flyin’ fuck about what anybody says.” (At the time, and some may argue still today, Jones’s book was notorious for its strong language. It was also controversial – and in parts censored – for its depiction of homosexuality. The film adaptation, meanwhile, lives on with its iconic beach scene.)

This flying fuck we can understand as the “smallest or least amount,” one noun sense of a fuck. Certainly flying functions as an intensifier, but why flying? Is it just for sonic effect? Flying fuck indeed has a great alliterative air to it. Or, as Joel Berson wonders on the ADS’s discussion list, might this flying signify “fleeting” or “flitting”? Could a flying fuck be the most transient and ephemeral of fucks, the fruit fly of fucks?

Second, we can also tell someone to go take a flying fuck. Here, we are intensively telling someone to get lost. Fuck off or go to hell also serve this sentiment well. This construction often appears in a yet more colorful form: to go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.

Many know this rolling doughnut elaboration thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s 1976 Slapstick¹, though the expression well predates the novel. (Mr. Vonnegut also graced our sweary pages in my piece on pissant last August.) While campaigning for the presidency on a utopian platform to end loneliness by randomly creating extended families, protagonist Dr. Swain advises people to issue these choice words if they hate their new, assigned kin: Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?

I suppose we all dream of letting fly these words at our given relatives every now and again.

Predating Vonnegut’s usage, The F-Word cites a rolling doughnut iteration in Robert Pirosh’s 1949 war drama, Battleground:  “Tell him to take a flyin’ leap at a rollin’ doughnut.” And “You can take a flying one at a rolling one” appears a few years earlier from a work by a fighter pilot. These examples make me wonder if a rolling doughnut was ever military slang for some sort of vehicular maneuver –unless I’m just missing the obvious here.

Pirosh’s “flyin’ leap” is additionally instructive, as it points to the history of the construction. The F-Word finds “take a flyin’ fling at the moon” in a 1926 passage that actually refers back to 1918.

Similar “jumps” and “moons” appear until 1938, when John O’Hara wrote in a letter: “I say go take a flying fuck at a galloping r–ster.” Rooster, a cock, is intended, the self-censorship rather tongue-in-cheek. While we may not have explicit record of fuck for the construction until 1938, the early flings and jumps certainly seem to have originally euphemized the f word.

(It’s interesting, I should note, that Vonnegut draws on both the doughnut and moon elaborations, but we should remember both examples appear in the context of World War II, which Vonnegut fought in.)

The dismissive imperative of go take a flying fuck has motion, speed, direction – and whimsy. Its early, fanciful references to the far-off moon suggest the flying fuckster should get impossibly lost. And whatever they may be, a rolling doughnut and galloping rooster, among other elaborations, certainly sound like taking a flying fuck at them is quite the feat.

Which brings us to “New Feats of Horsemanship.” Step aside, galloping rooster. Yes, the earliest record of flying fuck is not concerned with birds but with horses.

Around 1800, apparently², British caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson produced a bawdy broadside:

Giddy-up. “New Feats of Horsemanship.” Engraving by Thomas Rowlandson, 1799. Image from the Burchard Galleries.

His poem reads:

Well mounted on a mettled steed
Famed for his strength as well as speed
Corinna and her favorite buck
Are pleas’d to have a flying f–k.
While o’er the downs the courser strains,
With fiery eyes and loosened reins,
Around his neck her arms she flings,
Behind her buttocks move like springs.
While Jack keeps time to every motion,
And pours in love’s delicious potion.

Talk about a bumpy flight.

Here, flying clearly refers to the striding motion and fuck to that other striding motion. Rowlandson’s one-off flying fuck is not the modern usage, of course. As the record well suggests, to give a flying fuck or to go take a flying fuck developed separately, perhaps with the latter influencing the former.

However it earned its wings, fuck certainly knows how to fly.

¹These lines also occur earlier, though less prominently, in Vonnegut’s 1969 Slaughterhouse Five, also set in World War II.

²According to Mark Forsyth and Mark Morton. The Online Etymology Dictionary also cites this poem, though does not attribute it to Rowlandson. Sheidlower cites the first quatrain in Henry Cary’s Slang of Venery and its Analogues, antedating 1850. Jonathan Lighter, whose Historical Dictionary of American Slang has informed The F-Word, also notes an 18th century graffito playing with amorous flying on the ADS discussion list.

29 thoughts on “When fucks fly

  1. Leia January 13, 2016 / 1:00 pm

    Trying to take a flying fuck at a rolling donut” was a number of pilot’s description of the challenge of attempting air to air refuelling at one time! Possibly still current.


    • John Kelly January 14, 2016 / 2:40 pm

      Really? Sounds, though, like the pilots were applying the expression, though, to the difficult task, as opposed to the task giving rise to the expression, no?


      • Leia January 22, 2016 / 2:13 pm

        I think it was a using it fairly literally as a descriptive expression comparing trying to stick one thing into a another when both were moving… yes… It was a Vulcan pilot I learned the expression from so common at least from the 60-80s of their currency.

        Liked by 1 person

    • John Kelly January 14, 2016 / 2:44 pm

      I’ve never encountered that variant. I assume the “hotdog” is a phallic variant of “doughnut” for female speakers?


    • kjkrug January 15, 2016 / 1:55 am

      I’ve heard “hotdog” used to describe a small penis: “Sex with Bob was as much fun as throwing a hotdog down a hallway.” See also “pencil dick,” “needle dick.” I guess from the man’s perspective it could be reversed to mean a woman’s vagina is too large, but that sounds like blaming the victim because the man does not have a penis large enough to do the job properly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Janet Coburn January 15, 2016 / 3:23 am

        Off the sausage metaphors, but I’ve always admired “lap pinkie,” which goes nicely with the common little finger gesture.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Deryn Harris January 15, 2016 / 2:01 am

      I propose “flying fuck at a floating frankfurter” because I adore alliteration.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. ellaventic January 13, 2016 / 5:26 pm

    I work in an educational building and am supposed to avoid profanity while on the premises. As a result, “flying fuck” is one of my favorite constructions because I can approximate it with “Yeah, I don’t actually give a flying” and the meaning is still clear and colorful! (I don’t say that around students, of course. But I think the anti-swearing convention among adults is more than a little silly so I really enjoy poking at it when possible.)


    • John Kelly January 14, 2016 / 2:43 pm

      I used to work in educational buildings and know well that it was often difficulty to avoid profanity on the premises. You’re right in line with the record on “flying fuck”: the earliest citations actually euphemize the f-word, as we saw above, including just flying one,” so dropping the “fuck” for “give a flying” is an excellent maneuver – saying the f-word without saying the f-word. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Chiazzz January 13, 2016 / 8:09 pm

    Loved this thanks for sharing. 😀


  4. John Cowan January 13, 2016 / 9:15 pm

    The point about a rolling doughnut is that it (a) has a hole which (b) rolls at constant height above the ground.

    I wonder if there is some distant connection between flying fuck and such phrases as fuck a duck and chicken-fucker.


  5. John Kelly January 14, 2016 / 3:02 pm

    While a connection of “fuck a duck” and “chicken-fucker” to the horseback “flying fuck” seems tempting, I would guess, and I am only speculating here, that the former two expressions display different sweary phenomena at work. “Fuck a duck” is also a way of saying “get lost,” so in some broader, semantic sense it is related to “not giving a flying fuck.” However, I think the expression is clearly playing with rhyme and the animality adding additional insult. “Chicken-fucker” I think also playing with sound (the /k/ in both words) and animality.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kjkrug January 15, 2016 / 1:42 am

    I’ve always heard it as “go take a flying fucking leap through a rolling doughnut.” As in, get the fuck out of here, don’t bother me. The flying and rolling is motion away from the speaker.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. CGHill January 15, 2016 / 3:53 am

    Season two of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (!) came perilously close:

    “I can’t believe that the two most frivolous ponies in Ponyville are trying to tell new Fluttershy how to live her life when they are throwing their own lives away on pointless pursuits that nopony else gives a flying feather about!”

    I stared at the screen in disbelief for rather longer than I might have imagined.


    • John Kelly January 15, 2016 / 2:56 pm

      “A flying feather”! Also, is “nopony” intentional?


      • CGHill January 16, 2016 / 6:46 pm

        It is. “Everypony,” “somepony” and “nopony” are standard pronouns in Equestria. Writers of fanfiction in this universe have added other extensions to the language, with results something like this:

        Rarity tossed her mane. “My dear fellow, you’re in a world where the mares outnumber the stallions four to one, and you have a mare all to yourself. You should be doing a great deal better than everypony else.” She winked at him. “And you’re an earth pony. You should be able to overwhelm a mere unicorn with sheer physicality.”

        “She’s not a mere unicorn,” Brush protested. “She’s a bucking princess. For all I know, there’s a banishment order out there with my name on it.”

        Nopony says “the B word” the way we say “the F word,” but you get the idea.


  8. Janet Coburn January 28, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    I always thought the “polite” euphemism was “don’t give a flying fig.” Also, I’ve heard “needle dick” expanded to “needle dick, the bug fucker.”


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