Plenty has been penned about the history, derivation, and usage of the word “fuck,” so there is no need to rehash it here. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of it that while mentioned is mostly glossed over. In English, at least, “fuck” is the most mercurial of swear words because it has escaped and run from the confines of its sexual root. While every other European language has its own word for “fuck,” English appears to be unique in its more universal application. Let’s take the following joke as an example:
In Jerusalem, a female journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall, and there he was! She watched him pray, and after about forty-five minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.
“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?
“For about fifty years.”
“Fifty years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs. I pray for all hatred to stop, and I pray for our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“How do you feel after doing this for fifty years?
“Like I’m talking to a fucking wall.”
To understand the uniqueness of this joke in English, try literally translating it into any other European language. The punch line would make no sense to a Frenchman. Although he does have a respective—or dis-respective—verb “foutre” and the milder “baiser,” he would wonder why someone is referring to intercourse with a wall. “That fucking wall” would be something along the lines of “cette putain de mur” in French, or “that whore of a wall,” and Spanish would be similar. The French are also quite enamored of shit—“vous me faites chier,” which literally means “you make me shit,” but implies that “you bore me.” The sacrosanct “fucking” is reserved for, well, “fucking.” Continue reading