One of the curiosities in the study of offensive language is just how recent are most of the figurative uses of the main obscene words. Though fuck can be found as far back as the fourteenth or fifteenth century (depending on how one chooses to interpret some proper-name evidence), even the most familiar non-sexual expressions are barely more than a century old: fuck you is first recorded in 1905, fucking as an intensifier is from the 1890s, interjectional fuck only from the late 1920s.
Of course, it is entirely possible that such uses were earlier, but not recorded (or discovered). This is the case with most words, but even more so with offensive language, where there are very strong taboos—cultural and often legal—against printing it. The early evidence we have for even the literal senses of such words is sparse, and there were better reasons for these senses to be recorded, not least their use for prurient purposes. And there are many clear indications that these words were in much wider use in speech. The figurative senses are that much less likely to be written down. One place we do find them is in court records, where there is a specific need for recording the precise nature of someone’s language. The earliest known examples of cocksucker (1894), motherfucking (1890), and up shit creek (1868) are all from legal or similar government records.
After my latest post on the rejection of FUCK as a registered trademark for apparel, I offer all you aficionados of sweary trademarks another roundup of registrations.
Around 100 FUCK-formative trademarks are registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). That’s not including a bunch of sanitized-ish FOX, FVCKs, and similar close calls. In addition to TOM FORD FUCKING FABULOUS — the derivation of which was explored fabulously by my fellow Strong Language contributor Nancy Friedman — other registered fucking marks include:
- FUCK IT! for “noodle-based prepared meals”
- GOOD FUCKING for wine and other alcoholic beverages
- GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED for coffee beans
- FUCK PROOF for mascara
The following design mark is registered for podcast productions, which the producers intriguingly describe as “a true crime comedy podcast about cults, murder and other generally fucked up stuff”:
For decades, it would have been a complete waste of your time to apply to register FUCK at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Same with F*CK, FXCK, F CK, FUK, FUX, FUHKIT, and the like. Images of a raised middle finger? Also entirely out of the question.
Then, in 2019, the Supreme Court struck down the statutory bar on registering “scandalous” trademarks. That decision opened the door to all sorts of fucking shit on the trademark register, in the name of free speech.
Or did it?
Erik Brunetti, the plaintiff who won at the Supreme Court and ultimately registered FUCT, then tried to register plain old FUCK. In June of 2021, an examining attorney refused Brunetti’s application for FUCK for sunglasses, cell phone cases, jewelry, a variety of types of bags, and retail services. Many of the same goods for which he’d already registered FUCT. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) – essentially the appellate court of the USPTO – has agreed with that conclusion.
So scandalous trademarks are generally registrable, but FUCK isn’t? What the actual . . . heck?
Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.
Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.
The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:
It’s a couple of years since our last fuck shit stack of sweary songs, and almost five since we began this series at the Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball. So it’s about fucking time we posted some more bawdy blues and mothercussin’ melodies.
Much of the audio below is NSFW, if that still means anything, but it straddles the range from super-profane to merely suggestive. Genre-wise it’s cheerfully all over the place, so if you don’t like one, try the next.
LaVern Baker and Jackie Wilson clearly enjoyed this party version of ‘Think Twice’:
I said you better think twice, Jackie
Before you call me a dirty ho
I’ve got news for you, little boy
Don’t fuck with me no mo’