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The F-Word

Settembre 2010
Allora si può dire o no? Ci ripetono che è il peggiore insulto della lingua inglese, ma ormai si sente anche nelle canzoni di Lily Allen, e nei film americani la dicono tutti. Quanto è davvero offensiva la parola fuck? Molto. Ma i tempi sono cambiati...

di William Sutton

File audio:

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

The F-word – as “fuck” is known – is not polite. It is as offensive today as it has always been.
The F-word is not the only euphemism we use to hide its rudeness. We sometimes write it as f**k or “f” followed by any three symbols (f*%!). We say “eff off” instead of “fuck off” or “effing” instead of “fucking.”


I was an innocent child. When I was 10, I saw the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I was amazed to hear the word fuck used by adults. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I knew only bad kids used it. I didn’t know how old the word is. But people who like “effing and blinding” often defend their choice of vocabulary. “It’s a good old Anglo-Saxon word,” they say, but is that true?


Fuck seems to be related to German ficken and Dutch fokken (to breed or strike). There may be a connection to Latin’s futuere. This is the same root as Italian fottere, Spanish joder and Portuguese foder; perhaps even ancient Greek phuo (to beget, give birth), which is also the origin of words like physics.


In English, a town called Fuccerham appears in 772 AD, meaning “home of the fucker”: was this a sexual stud or just a bad man? The verb fuck appears in a poem of 1503 and in an Italian-English dictionary of 1598. Shakespeare doesn’t use it, but refers to it in jokes.
For centuries, dictionaries omitted it as too vulgar. The Oxford English Dictionary finally included it in 1972 (along with the even more offensive word, cunt). Even today, it is ignored by Microsoft’s spell check, and not mentioned in their thesaurus.


Yet the F-word is celebrated as one of our most potent words. It can be a verb, a noun, an adjective or an adverb. It may seem sexual, but it can express pain or pleasure, hate or love. It can even be inserted in the middle of a word: “un-fucking-believable!”
When fuck was first said on television in 1965, it caused a sensation. These days it’s not just rappers like Eminem, punks like Johnny Rotten or rebels like John Lennon who use it. Nice girls like Lily Allen and Kate Nash use it in songs. Nice films like Four Weddings and a Funeral make jokes with it.
Amazingly, after all these years, this four-letter word still makes people angry – which just proves how powerful words can be.


Politeness. If you’re in a situation where swearing is impolite, you can substitute words beginning with similar sounds. Instead of shit, say sugar. Instead of fucking, say flipping, frigging, fricking or freaking.

Clothes. French Connection UK caused anger with their FCUK acronym. T-shirts had slogans like HOT AS FCUK, FCUK FOOTBALL and TOO BUSY TO FCUK. A juror was expelled from court by a judge who considered the “misspelt Anglo-Saxon word” undignified.

South Park characters Terrance and Philip continually say fuck, as the writers think the English swear more than Americans.

To write fuck without offending, we can substitute f*** or any four characters, such as @$#%.

Censorship. On TV, fuck is often dubbed over. In Snakes on a Plane, Samuel L Jackson says (in place of motherfucking), “I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane.”

Famous Quotations

“I never drink water. Fish fuck in it.” (W.C. Fields)

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you.” (Philip Larkin)

I came from a tough neighborhood. The library sign says “Shut the fuck up!”
(Rodney Dangerfield)

I knew I had a problem when I turned to my daughter and said: “Would you please pass the fucking salt?” (Paul Newman)

I’ve been skinny; it’s fucking boring. (Kate Winslet)

The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky.
A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said. (Samuel Beckett)

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to hide its rudeness: per mascherare la volgarità.

Life of Brian: in italiano, Brian di Nazareth.

I was amazed: ero sbalordito.

to breed or strike: riprodursi o colpire.

root: radice.

to beget: ottenere.

stud: stallone.

refers to it in jokes: fa riferimenti in alcune battute.

cunt: lett. figa, ma anche questa parola si è trasformata in un insulto senza particolari connotazioni sessuali

spell check: controllo ortografico.

thesaurus: dizionario dei sinonimi.

it caused a sensation: causò un pandemonio.

swearing: turpiloquio.

Terrance and Philip: Trombino e Pompadour nella versione italiana.

dubbed over: doppiato.

they fuck you up: ti incasinano.

faults: difetti.

tough neighborhood: quartiere malfamato.

I’ve been skinny: sono stata magra.

as of sighs: come di sospiri.

stretching out his hands: tendendo le mani.