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:

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“Don’t show your mother your penis”: Swears in a 19th-century Tibetan and Newar phrasebook

It’s always entertaining to look up rude words in a dictionary. This activity can tell you something about the editor, and perhaps the intended audience. A nineteenth century single-copy hand-written dictionary that translates between Tibetan and Newar (a language of Nepal) offers a uniquely joyful smutty read.

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Merry thoughts, naughty bits: putting the ‘bone’ in wishbones

At the Strong Language table this U.S. Thanksgiving, we’ll be having none of that euphemistic white or dark meat first served up in the polite speech of 19th-century American English. No, we’ll be piling our plates high with turkey breasts and thighs.

But there’s another part of the turkey that may be a bit naughty if we look to its linguistic history: the wishbone.

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In a mid-late-20th-century British play the name and author of which I have forgotten, I once read the following line, spoken as a fond reminiscence by a sodden erstwhile Etonian or Harrovian or whatever: “Sodomy, buggery, boarding-school-duggery…”

And so the word skulduggery has ever since had for me an overtone of anal sex. The duggery certainly fits (as it were), digging in the backyard and all that. The skul (sometimes spelled skull in this word) is more reminiscent of fellatio, of course: skull-duggery would be skull-fuckery, no?

Well, there is good news yet for any skulking skull kings out there. Skulduggery may refer to shady deeds and dark doings, underhanded things, intrigues and trickery, but its source is a word for, well, doing things in dark places and shady areas, under the hand or other bodily parts, and turning intriguing tricks. Continue reading