The first fuckwit

The recent launch of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (AND) gave me a chance to indulge in my long-time hobby of looking up the swear words. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favourite home-grown colourful language in a future post, but I want to start with an entry that gives me the kind of pride that others expended on the Olympic Games last month.

The entry for fuckwit (p. 647) includes the note:

Used elsewhere but recorded earliest in Australia

That’s right. Australia is the home of the fuckwit. The earliest citation in the AND and the Oxford English Dictionary is from Alex Buzo’s 1970 play The Front Room Boys. The earliest non-Australian citation in the OED is from a 1992 article in Making Music magazine from America.

The second edition of the AND expands the citations for fuckwit, makes a clearer distinction between nominal and adjectival use, and (most importantly) adds an earlier citation for fuckwitted. Here are the entries, along with the earliest few citations:

A. N. A fool, an idiot

1969 A. Buzo Front Room Boys (1970) 89 ooh, temper! Well, ta-ta for now, fuckwit.
1970 D. Williamson Coming of Stork (1974) 5 ‘I’m a trainee marketing executive…’ ‘You’re a fuckwit’
1977 Southerly i. 48 I object to trendy words like fuckwit and avoid it even in Scrabble.
1980 F. Moorhouse Days of Wine & Rage 79 The present government consists of the finest set of fuckwits seen since federation.

B. adj. Stupid, foolish, idiotic

1979 Meanjin 464 It sounded like a load of fuckwit shit to me
1993 Picture (Sydney) 27 Oct. 25/5 An interesting Seppo has taught his pet… to roll over, play dead, walk up a ramp, and stand on a  barrel. Big fucking deal, you say, any fuckwit dog can do that.

Derivative: fuckwitted adj.

1972 J. Hibberd Stretch of Imagination (1973) 20 you two-timing, fuck-witted mongrel of a slut.
1973 D. Williamson Coming of Stork (1974) 152 That fuckwitted agent of yours is really driving me right off my brain.

That Seppo, in case you’re wondering, is a glorious example of Australian rhyming slang; Seppo > Septic Tank > Yank.

Another change that the AND have made to the entry is to label fuckwit as derogatory. These labels were omitted from the first edition based on the very Australian logic that:

There is a danger that using labels to indicate register can be overinterpretative and over-restrictive. This seems particularly true of Australian English, which allows easy movement between formal and informal usage. It should be clear from the citations if a word belongs mainly in colloquial use or to the slang of a particular group, and equally clear if it is for some reason taboo in some contexts. Labels like coarse, colloq., derog., slang, and vulgar, which tend unnecessarily to categorize, have therefore been omitted.

The labels Offens. and Derog. have been added to entries in the second edition of the AND in case you’re too much of a fuckwit to tell if something is offensive.

[Update: If you were wondering why Coming of Stork is given the date 1970 in the noun entry and 1973 in the derivative entry (and I know you were), I got in touch with the AND team to ask. The derivative entry is actually from the play What if I Died Tomorrow (performed 1973); these two plays were bundled in the same book, with different performance dates, which is where the confusion of the texts comes from.]

16 thoughts on “The first fuckwit

  1. Chips Mackinolty September 14, 2016 / 8:11 am

    There is also fuckwittery, though that may have been coined beyond Australian shores

    Liked by 2 people

  2. phanmo September 14, 2016 / 8:34 am

    I would have thought septic was cockney, I certainly heard it all the time when I lived in London. Admittedly it was 6 or 7 years after the citation above but I heard it from people that would have had little or no contact with Australians(difficult as that is in London!) i.e. working class blokes nearing retirement age.

    Liked by 1 person

    • iwillnotliveinvain September 15, 2016 / 12:29 am

      I would expect that the Septic Tank = Yank part probably is cockney as that is a much more common thing to do the rhyming up there, but the shortening it further and adding the ‘o’ to make “Seppo” is most definitely of the Australian vernacular


    • Chips Mackinolty September 28, 2016 / 4:34 pm

      I can hardly be definitive about this but as, according to Etymology Online, the term “septic tank” was not attested to until 1902; and that the Cockney areas of London are very unlikely to have septic tanks (it is a method of waste disposal entirely limited to small town/rural areas), it kind of suggests that its origin is not Cockney. Australian English is not without rhyming slang … certainly brought over from Britain … but locally coined. An example, at least back to the 1950s is “Dapto” for migrant from southern Europe [Dapto < Dapto Dogs < Wogs … Dapto Dogs being a greyhound racing track at small town near Wollongong]. The first edition of the Oxford Australian National Dictionary takes the term back to 1967 at the height of US R&R visitation in Sydney. As @ I will not live in vain points out; the shortening to "seppo" is a logical Australian contraction–and there is no reason to suppose it is not a contraction of existing Australian terminology/rhyming slang. I certainly encountered the term in the late 1960s in Sydney.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. jonna ellis holston September 14, 2016 / 10:32 am

    As an American, I object to your claim that Australia is home of the fuckwit. You may have first usage rights, but I believe we already had the market cornered on them.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. John Cowan September 14, 2016 / 11:55 am

    Yes, well, wowser ‘killjoy’ is distinctively Australian even though probably 99% of the world’s wowsers are Americans.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan Hen September 14, 2016 / 3:21 pm

    Reblogged this on itkindofgotawayfromyou and commented:
    Sometimes I like to do a little change of pace and include an off-beat post ( I know , I know . Some of you think all of my posts are off-beat ; so , be that as it may , bear with me .) This may be a good one for those of you tourists dreaming of going to Australia .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christopher Gow September 14, 2016 / 11:45 pm

    Certainly does make you proud doesn’t it. My favourite from the new edition is ‘Gosford skirt’ meaning a very short skirt and the related ‘Gosford boots’ meaning boots that go to the knees. It requires some knowledge of Australian, especially Sydney region, geography. Gosford is a city north of Sydney and just a little further north of Gosford is a town called The Entrance. So a Gosford skirt or boot is near to…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan Vandenberg September 16, 2016 / 12:49 am

      In Brisbane there’s also a saying: “legs like Waterworks Road”. That particular road was quite long, running from the city to a suburb called The Gap.

      Liked by 1 person

    • phanmo September 16, 2016 / 3:26 pm

      Reminds me of one of my favourite London terms “Croyden facelift”, which refers to a certain hairstyle when the hair is scraped back into a very tight ponytail. You have to know Croyden…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Chips Mackinolty September 15, 2016 / 10:15 pm

    As a footnote: Alex Buzo used the phrase “fucking bong” in his play, Norman and Ahmed, a year beforehand. It was changed to “bloody boong” in early performances, but nevertheless earned various legal battles, some successful, some not. Buzo’s contribution to Strong Language in Australia should not be forgotten!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chips Mackinolty September 15, 2016 / 10:18 pm

      Sorry, spellcheck, nothing to do with drug use” “boong”, not “bong”. Curious that spellcheck accepts an implement not legal in many places, but will not recognise Strong Language.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. expatwanderings October 1, 2016 / 10:53 am

    One of my favourite words, and something as a HK-based Aussie, I utter too frequently while navigating the insane crowds here.

    Liked by 1 person

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