Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Mr. Manners’ Guide to The F-Word

Mark Peters, a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude is our guest blogger this week. In this post, he looks at variations and usage of the f-word. Obviously, this post contains rather strong language.

Jesse Sheidlower’s The F-word is many things: a super-mega-normous look at all things fuck; a huge, steaming pile of filth; and a huge, erudite pile of scholarship. It’s a myth-dispelling history lesson in taboo language, literary culture, and pop culture, with appearances by The Sex Pistols, Pulp Fiction, Dick Cheney, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, James Joyce, and Kurt Vonnegut. It may be the greatest bathroom book of all time.

This citation-packed historical dictionary also raises questions about the moral fiber—not to mention the moral cocoa puffs—of society. There was a time when fuck didn’t even get included in dictionaries, and now there’s a dictionary with only fuck, in its third edition no less? How can the tender hearts and minds of our time cope with a book so explicitly illustrating the history of fuck-a-doodle-doo and its barnyard brother, the fucked duck? What will they say at (as Jerry Seinfeld put it) “the finest finishing schools on the eastern seaboard” when confronted with almost two pages on doublefuck and six on ratfuck? Will schoolchildren of the future soon be texting and tweeting DILLIGAF and FYBIS? (“Do I look like I give a fuck?” and “Fuck you, buddy, I’m shipping out,” for the acronymically innocent).

Yes, this is a ticking bomb clock of a book, and the average language-user can’t be expected to know where the red, blue, green, and mauve wires are leading. That’s where I come in (cue “The Final Countdown”).

In addition to being the leading prophet of a new religion based on pancakes, I am also an authority on etiquette. In fact, I am a licensed etiquitte-ologist, and the fact that I made the license myself with crayons is something etiquette forbids you to notice. Instead, you should latch your eyes onto the following usage guide like a hobo seizing a discarded KFC bucket. My advice on these sensitive terms, selected from Sheidlower’s towering temple of titillation, is guaranteed to save—or cause—an embarrassing faux pas, or your money back.

(In the interests of full disclosure and maximum courtesy, I must confess to being one of several word-herders thanked in The F-word, though my contributions were small, and I remain chagrinned that my finding of neurodoublefucked didn’t warrant inclusion. Har-smurfing-umph).

pigfuck
Though not as well known in the highest echelons of society as violin concertos or speed metal, pigfuck is the name of a music genre, specifically one “associated with the late 1980s and typically regarded as an outgrowth of punk and a precursor to grunge, characterized by a gritty, noisy sound.” Thus, pigfuck is entirely appropriate to use when discussing that genre, and that genre alone. However, discretion must be exercised when proximity to a barnyard might cause ambiguity. Similarly, it is always OK to call the windfucker bird (or kestrel) by name, just as long as you don’t say it was my idea.

HMFIC (head motherfucker in charge), MFWIC (motherfucker what’s in charge)
The supreme leaders, supreme commanders, dear leaders, grand poohbahs, rear admirals, and assistant deans of the world all feel, at times, that their present titles may not sufficiently connote the grandeur they wish to inspire in the help and the masses. However, if you refer to yourself as, for example, “Dr. Vargas, HMFIC” I am almost certain those children will stop laughing at you.

IHTFP (I hate this fucking place)
As a former resident of Buffalo, NY, where the snow sometimes falls in six-feet-per-week increments, and the football team loses games that range from heart-attack-spawning to mass-suicide-provoking, I can heartily recommend the use of this expression there. It is also handy and apropos in Phoenix or hell during the summer. Speaking of those sweltering mid-year months, I think we can all agree alternatives are needed to the overused, worn out clichés “Hot enough for ya?” and “It’s hotter’n Satan’s thong!” I suggest using hotter than a fresh fucked fox in a forest fire, an expression dating from 1950, for future steamy summers and eternal flame-y torments. Sometimes, freshness of phrase trumps ickiness of idiom.

goat-fucking contest
The question of when it is “okey-dokey” or “swell” to refer to a goat-fucking contest has puzzled correctness czars and English professors since Christ was a corporal. We can learn something from a Sheidlower-collected 1998 citation: “Colonel, you and me been to three county fairs and a goat-fuckin’ contest and I ain’t seen you hit by nothin’ heavier than shrapnel.” First, it seems this expression is super-apropos in the military, an entity that cultivates profanity by the bucketload. Secondly—and I presume this has something to do with the metric system—this and other examples include three country fairs along with the goat-humping, so precedent dictates that these words should stay wedded idiomatically. We can also extrapolate that a goat-flipping contest is not to be mentioned or invoked lightly. No matter how good that coffee is, it’s probably not three-county-fairs-and-a-goat-fucking-contest good. Finally, since the expression often includes merely a goat-fuckin’ (or goat-ropin’) with no mention of a contest, I am almost certain this expression is not fit for ESPN.

CFM, fuck-me
CFM is an acronym for “come fuck me” that, in the older and commoner form “fuck-me” usually applies to skirts, shoes, boots, heels, pumps and other traditionally conjugalicious women’s wear. Sheidlower defines fuck-me as “(especially of an article of clothing, typically footwear) intended to invite sexual advances; seductive, vampish, sexy.” I just wonder if the haberdashers and seamstresses and J. Petermans of the world have sufficiently plumbed the depths of CFM-ness. Perhaps some enterprising clothes-ologist could design the fuck-me fez, the fuck-me Mr. Rogers sweater, and—for the cautious-minded—the fuck-me tin-foil hat. We all need love, you know.

Finally, etiquette mavens and manners enthusiasts—not to mention politeness pundits—may be baffled when considering the bulging bucket of insults for which fuck is a prefix. Thankfully, Sheidlower’s definitions lend a helping hand. Consider this handy chart of fifteen easily confused terms:

fuckass: “a despicable or contemptible person”
fuckbag: “a disgusting person, ‘asshole’, etc.”
fuckface: “an ugly or contemptible person.—usually used abusively in direct address”
fuckhead: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fuckhole: “a despicable person; an asshole”
fuck-knuckle: “a stupid or offensive person”
fucknob: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fucknut: “a stupid or contemptible person”
fuck-pig: “a contemptible person”
fuckrag: “a worthless, contemptible, or despicable person”
fuckshit: “a despicable person”
fuckstick: “a worthless, contemptible, or despicable person”
fucktard: “a despicably stupid person”
fuckwad: “a stupid or contemptible person; an asshole”
fuckwit: “a stupid person”

If only I had this list during grad school, I could have been so much more accurate and beaten up!

Thanks to these distinctions, I’ll be able to send Festivus cards with confidence this year. My colleague Bucky is quite dumb, yet possesses no despicable or contemptible qualities, so I shall address him as “little fuckwit.” My nemesis Dr. Vargas is cunning as a sewer rat and quite despicable; therefore, he is a fuckass (as well as a fuckshit and fuck-pig). My cousin Jeffrey is neither despicable nor contemptible, but he is worthless, so I guess he’s a fuckrag, like Grandma always said.

You see, even in this warp-speed world of Twitter and moon-smashing, there’s always time for the right word in the right place for the right worthless, contemptible, or despicable person. It may be impolite to call a doofus a fucknut, but it’s impolite and inaccurate to call a fuckbag a fuckrag. There’s no excuse for it–even if you’ve been to four county fairs and a goat-you-know-what-ing.

Recent Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Peters, Stan Carey. Stan Carey said: RT @oupblog: @wordlust on THE F-WORD or, “When it is Permissible to Refer to a Goat-effing Contest” http://bit.ly/PCUJ7 [...]

  2. [...] abyss and buttmunch. I also love many categories of words, such as euphemisms and variations of the f-word. One of my favorite word types makes my heart go thump-thump and pit-a-pat: reduplicative [...]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *