The F Word

Baker, John JBaker at STRADLEY.COM
Tue Mar 27 05:00:01 UTC 2001

        I recently acquired Jesse Sheidlower's opus, The F Word (2d ed.
1999).  I trust that this lead-in has duly warned anyone who might be
offended by what is to follow.

        The introduction states that the word may not have been openly
printed in any form in the United States until 1926 and that the first use
in an American legal case did not occur until 1940.  Actually, with the use
of Westlaw (which I believe has more comprehensive case coverage than
Lexis), I have found some earlier examples.  The following is from the case
of Edgar v. McCutchen in the Supreme Court of Missouri, January Term, 1846,
7 Mo. 768, which I have quoted almost in full.  The opinion appears to be by
Judge Scott:

        >>The slanderous charge was carnal knowledge of a mare, and the word
"fuck" was used to convey the imputation.  After the verdict for the
plaintiff, a motion made in arrest of judgment, for the reason that the word
used to convey the slander, was unknown to the English language, and was not
understood by those to whom it was spoken . . . . The motion was overruled,
and Edgar appealed.

        Because the modesty of our lexicographers restrains them from
publishing obscene words, or from giving the obscene signification to words
that may be used without conveying any obscenity, it does not follow that
they are not English words, and not understood by those who hear them; or
that chaste words may not be applied so as to be understood in an obscene
sense by every one who hears them. [Footnote omitted]  All the Judges
concurring, the judgment is affirmed.<<

        The Missouri courts did not soon resume their use of the word, but
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the early years of the 20th century
used it in a number of cases.  Perhaps the most interesting of these was the
case of Lara v. State, 60 Tex. Crim. 163, 95 S.W. 1083, decided on May 30,
1906, and written by Judge Davidson:

        >>But appellant insists that the charge on manslaughter is not
sufficient, because it did not charge the jury that insulting conduct
towards the female relatives of deceased would constitute adequate cause . .
. . Deceased said to the [appellant-defendant's] brother:  "Pedro, I have
whipped you, and have whipped your brother Cerio; and I am going to whip
Jesus (meaning defendant) and fuck the whole Lara family."  It is contended
that by the use of this vulgar word appellant used insulting language and
conduct towards the female relatives of appellant.  We do not so understand
this language, or that it was intended to convey the idea that he was going
to have carnal intercourse with the female relatives, or that it intended to
reflect upon them in any way.  Appellant's theory seems to be that this
intended to convey the idea that the female relatives of his family were
prostitutes.  This language, in our judgment, was not used for that purpose,
and does not convey that idea.  It was a term used . . . to insult Pedro, to
whom it was used, and conveyed the idea of enmity and ill will and the
purpose of bringing on a difficulty with him.<<

        The same earthy court gives us an antedating of mother-fucking,
which The F Word takes back only to 1933.  This is from the case of Sunday
v. State, 77 Tex. Crim. 26, 177 S.W. 97 (May 26, 1915), in an opinion by
Judge Harper:

        >>Appellant says . . . "He waved his knife at me; he says, 'If you
say are other word I will cut your God damned throat, you mother-fucking son
of a bitch from, ear to ear.'  George Rabun says, 'Yes, if you say ary other
word, I will cut your God damned throat.'  Jack says, 'You are nothing but a
set of God damned mother-fucking sons of bitches, the whole business of you,
womenfolks and all, and mother.'  I will tell you what he said about my
mother; he told me my mother, sisters, and wife were not nothing but a set
of mother-fucking sons of bitches."<<

John Baker

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