Arts & Literature

F-Bomb Smarts

Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large for the Oxford English Dictionary, discusses his book The F-Word at the Rendezvous in Turners Falls this Thursday.


Thursday, February 11, 2010
Photo Courtesy of Oxford University Press
Editor Jesse Sheidlower

For those of us who spent countless hours scouring the big, thick dictionaries in school libraries for bad words and cackling at what we found, The F-Word is a dream come true. While it focuses on the big daddy of all cuss words, rest assured plenty of the other favorites make many guest appearances.

Along with an introductory essay on the word’s origins (Germanic and Dutch) and the varied ways the word has been used in different media, Sheidlower offers a dictionary full of “fuck” usage. Just as in the Oxford English Dictionary, every entry includes dated examples for how that variation of “fuck” was employed throughout history.

It turns out my high school friend was not the originator of one of my all-time favorite uses of this multi-purpose word, “absofuckinglutely.” Sheidlower traces its printed use to as early as 1921 (troops during World War I had apparently been saying it). In 1945, the Australians were using it to great effect as well. It’s easy to get lost in the wealth of this kind of detail the book provides; even Sheindlower’s sources are interesting. While there are plenty of well-known authors represented (Hemingway, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Miller, Burroughs, Thompson and more), he’s also had to look into some dark corners to find authors who used the term more technically.

The third edition of the book was just released. The first contained only American usage; the second expanded to include British and Australian usages of fuck. The third is more than twice the length of previous edition, due in large part to how much more information has been made available online.

In his latest introduction, Sheindlower explains that by using full-text databases to find more examples, he’s been able to expand or split up entries. “Examples of this process,” he writes, “include cunt-fuck (noun), which previously had only a single quotation from 1998, from a Usenet newsgroup devoted to erotic stories, but has now been expanded into a full-fledged entry, with four quotations covering the range of 1879 to 2002; fuckwitted (adjective), previously part of fuckwit (noun) but now on its own…”
In other places, new meanings have been added. “The adjective fuckfaced, previously only recorded in the sense ‘having an ugly face,’” he writes, “now has two additional senses, ‘tired’ and ‘drunk; shit-faced.’”

Along with the crude and blunt, there are many examples of fine wit and poetic use of the word, and the dictionary offers a fine overview of how Western culture has (and hasn’t) coped with its sexuality over the last few centuries.

Looking through the book, it became clear to me that we haven’t been using the word nearly as effectively or as often as we should.

The author reads from his book at The Rendezvous in Turners Falls on Thursday at 7 p.m., and a Western swing trio also performs at 8:30 p.m..

Feb. 11, 7 p.m., The Rendezvous, 78 Third St., Turner Falls, (413) 863-2866

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