fout(re) > hoot(er)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 31 02:04:13 UTC 2000

At 9:37 AM -0400 8/31/00, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>We know how French 'foutre' appears in English, since about 1585:
>'fouter'/'foutre'/'foutra', still in the RH dictionary for example
>(although "archaic").
Not only does it appear, but it appears in precisely the contexts
we're discussing (inter alia).  Here's the OED:

fouter fu.t. Forms: 6-7 footra, footre, fowtre, 7 foutra, foutree,
foutir, 9 fouter. [a. OFr. foutre:-L. futuere (the inf. used subst.).

1. In phrases,

a foutre for, (to care) not a fouter.

        A. 1592 Greene James IV, v. ii, Jaques..faites bonne chere:
foutre de ce monde!

        1597 Shaks. 2 Hen. IV, v. iii. 103 A footra [Q. footre] for
the World, and Worldlings base.

        1622 Fletcher Sea Voy. v. i, Therefore footra, When I am full,
let 'em hang me, I care not.

        1638 Suckling Goblins iii. (1646) 26 Shall I so?-why then
foutree for the Guise.

        1871 R. Ellis Catullus xvii. 17 He leaves her alone to romp
idly, cares not a fouter.

2. Applied contemptuously to persons.

        1780-1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun iii. xxv, The astonish'd
tailor..swearing he was better stuff Than sick a fouter.

        1786 Harvest Rig in R. Chambers' Pop. Poems Scotl. (1862) 50 A
sutor, Most manfully about does lay-A tough auld fouter.

        1833 Marryat P. Simple (1863) 145 O'Brien declared that he was
a liar, and a cowardly foutre.
although there's only one cite (the 1871 rendering of Catullus), the
OED implies this was a standard use.  Of course, the semantics are
right--we've already discussed the parallel "not care a fuck" at some
length.  As noted, the real question is whether "hoot(er)" is an
alternate form of "foutre" in this or any other context, and by
extension whether there's any evidence that a French [f] ever turns
into an English [h], much less any direct evidence that "hoot(er)"
ever substitutes for "foutre" in other contexts, such as (2) above
("a tough old hooter") or the interjectional uses in (1) ("a hooter
for the world").

>  (The presence of the common word 'foot' /fUt/ will perhaps
>prejudice one against the
>  adoption of 'foot' /fut/; possibly 'hoot' /hut/ is 2nd choice.)

I don't find this argument from homonymy avoidance too persuasive in
this context, given the difference in the vowels and in the
semantics, and given the independent evidence for the persistence of
the obscene borrowing "foutre" (in its various spellings).


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