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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How “fuck” went mainstream

We’re delighted to share an extract from the new book From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations by Allan Metcalf. It will be published next month by Oxford University Press, which describes it as “a lively look at the words that have come to define different generations in history” – including fuck.

Even major dictionaries declined to include fuck until quite recently, yet it now appears without fuss in an impressive range of cultural domains. So how did fuck make the leap? In the text below, Metcalf traces the word’s emergence out of largely disreputable use into ever more mainstream contexts.

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Frogshit

Paul Dickson wrote a great book called Family Words. He collects terms used only by a very small circle of people, like a family or group of friends. My favorite family word is, to put it mildly, total frogshit.

Frogshit is a synonym for bullshit used mainly by my friend John and a few other friends. Sometimes he actually sends me a picture of a frog pooping, but that’s a matter for the courts.

Frogshit is a natural coinage born in the rich fertilizer of slang. When you’re talking about bullshit, you can’t go wrong with any kind of shit. Of course, horseshit is also a tried and true term for nonsense or drivel. Before batshit took on an insane meaning, it was also a word for bullshit. This Oxford English Dictionary use shows that meaning was still around in the eighties:

1985   D. Koontz Door to December (1994) iii. xxii. 274   Why would men of science..associate with a purveyor of bat shit and bunkum?

The OED also includes several examples of dog shit as meaning “Rubbish, nonsense”:

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The Delicacy of Captain Grose

NPG D16502; Francis Grose by John Kay

Francis Grose (1741-91), the militia-captain, antiquarian, and, most pertinent to our discussions, author of three editions – 1785, 1788 and 1796 – of that epochal slang dictionary The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, was, as illustrations underline, pleasingly aptronymic. Butchers, it was claimed, vied to proclaim his custom. He may (though disappointingly probably may not) have been strapped to his bed every night, lest were the weight of the Captain’s stomach to edge its way floorwards, it might be pursued by the rest of him. A man of flesh, he seems, perhaps indicative of his milieu and its era, to represent an alternative sense of gross: if not wholly coarse, then undoubtedly a pronounced inclination for matters distinctly corporeal.

Over his three editions he offers us 17 terms for penis (arbor vitae, matrimonial peacemaker, sugar-stick), 37 for vagina (crinkum-crankum, dumb glutton, the monosyllable), 56 for sexual intercourse (hump, pray with one’s knees upwards, shag) and 5 for gay sex (backgammon, fun, larking). Brothels, whores, madames and pimps, are all available. Jokes, puns, metaphors, Latinisms, euphemisms literary or otherwise. And there is ‘C**t the κοννώ of the Greek and the Cunnus of Latin Dictionaries, a Nasty name for a Nasty thing.’ Then we have ‘Burning shame, a lighted candle stuck into the parts of a woman, certainly not intended by nature for a candlestick.’ (The explanatory comment being appended, just in case we were uncertain, for the later editions.) Or ‘Nickumpoop, or nincumpoop, a foolish fellow; also one who never saw his wife’s ****.’ Predictably sexist stuff, but the Captain, we can safely say, is no prude.

And yet.

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