“The F-word is one of the most graphic, explicit and vulgar words in the English language,” U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garre proclaimed last week during a Supreme Court hearing on the First Amendment case Federal Communications Commission v. Fox. And if TV networks have it their way, according to Garre, it won’t be long before Americans hears “Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street.”
Garre is defending the FCC’s new policy of fining “fleeting expletives” like the one used by U2 frontman Bono during his acceptance speech at the 2003 Golden Globes (“This is really, really bleeping brilliant”), to which the governing body will no longer turn a blind eye — or deaf ear, as it were. Aside from the case’s ramifications on free speech, the Supreme Court hearing was notable in that it lasted several hours without a single justice once uttering the controversial term.
The history of the ancient and awesomely powerful “F-Bomb” continues to mystify lexiconographers. First printed in a Scottish poem in 1503, the term cannot rightly be considered slang given that it pre-dates the printing press and has been traced to a number of etymological origins: Middle Dutch (fokken), Germanic (ficken), English (firk), Scottish (fukkit). Even the Latin words futuerre (“to copulate”) and pungo (“to prick”) bear a striking resemblance to the modern-day phrase. Rumors persist that legal acronyms are to blame: “Fornication Under Consent of the King” or the Irish police blotter inscription “booked For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.” The word’s original definition linking sex with violence and pleasure with pain has broadened considerably in the past 500 years.