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Mind your language

The remarkable discovery of Roger Fuckebythenavele

An exciting discovery in the records of the County Court of Chester – but it’s probably not the oldest F-word

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

A great discovery has been made by Dr Paul Booth, a fellow of Keele University. It is a 14th-century example of fuck. We might think the word Anglo-Saxon, but it’s hard to find written examples before the 16th century. Chaucer never uses it. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is in a poem from 1500 in the surprising form gxddbov. That is a cipher which, by shifting each letter back a place in the alphabet, reveals fuccant, a dog-Latin third person plural of the verb.

Dr Booth was an honorary fellow of the University of Liverpool until he called the institution ‘bastards’ for its architectural shortcomings. This was held to be against its ‘Social Media Compliance Policy’. So much for academic freedom. Anyway, Dr Booth had plenty of other words that he might have chosen. One was a personal name that he discovered in the records of the County Court of Chester in 1310 and 1311. In December 1310 Roger Fuckebythenavele was exacted by the court, a procedure leading in September 1311 to his being outlawed. There are earlier names that imply the verb. A Bristol charter of about 1373 makes reference to a wood called Fockynggroue. Documents from 1287 relating to Sherwood Forest refer to a man called Ric Wyndfuck. This might relate to the bird known as the windfucker, the kestrel (known to Gerard Manley Hopkins as the windhover). It should be remembered here that (as the dictionary tells us) the Old Icelandic fjúka means ‘tossed by the wind’. But it is easy to find examples of windfucker used as a term of opprobrium. George Chapman (into whose Homer Keats looked) refers in his preface to ‘a certaine envious Windfucker, that hovers up and downe’. Kestrel itself was used as a term of mockery, as Ben Jonson’s character Kestrel in The Alchemist shows. A man called Fuckbegger is mentioned in 1287. The family seems to have died out. In 1279, the Chancery close rolls record that ‘John le Fucker of Tythinge’ had applied for bail.

So Dr Booth’s Roger Fuckebythenavele is not the earliest person obliged to bear such a nickname (perpetuating what youthful blunder?). But perhaps he was glad to be outlawed.


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