Fuck, Shit, and Bitch

This post was originally written as an academic paper at Rowan University, in a class on Linguistics. The assignment was to research the etymology of any three words in the English language. I decided it would be interesting to research the origins, usage, and history of three swear words.

I got an A on this paper, and a B as my final grade in the course.

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I decided to write about the words Fuck, Shit, and Bitch.  The reason I chose these three words is that I have never written a school paper before in which it was okay to use words like Fuck, Shit, and Bitch, and I thought it would be interesting to write a paper about them.  They are words I personally use on a regular basis, especially when talking to my friends, since I don’t share the common view of them being taboo words.

Fuck is a word which originated in early modern English, answering to a middle English type.  Its first known use in print occurred in 1503 in a poem by Dunbar: “Be his feiris he wald haue fukkit.”  As made clear by this early use, the modern spelling ‘fuck’ was not the original.  Early spellings included ‘fukkit’, ‘fukkand’, ‘fucke’, and ‘fuk’.  Being a taboo word, it is often written in an incomplete form, such as ‘f—k’ or ‘f—-d’ in the past tense, as a way of censoring.  It is also often referred to simply as “the F word” by people who do not wish to speak the word out loud, especially in front of children.  Its original meaning was simple to have sex, though using the word fuck to describe the sexual act was and is still considered vulgar.  The vulgar aspect of its meaning has led to its use in exclamations such as “Fuck it!” and “Go fuck yourself!” though these uses were not seen in print until the early twentieth century.  When used in different contexts, the word Fuck can have various meanings, such as “Fuck off” which means “go away”, “fuck up” which means a mistake, or someone who constantly makes mistakes, or “fucked over” which means to cause problems for another person.  Despite having expanded in meaning, the word Fuck has not lost its original meaning referring to the sexual act.

The word Bitch has an older origin than the word Fuck, originating in old English, and first occurring in print in the year 1000.  Its spelling has transformed from ‘bicce’ through ‘biege’, ‘bicche’, ‘bycche’, ‘biche’, ‘bych’, ‘bytch’, and ‘bich’ leading up to the modern ‘bitch’.  The word’s original meaning was a female dog, though over time this meaning expanded to be used for the females of several other species, such as the fox or the wolf.  A later use, and one which is still in common practice today, is to use the word Bitch to refer to a woman in a vulgar and insulting manner, such as “You’re such a bitch!”  This use was not seen in print until the year 1400.  The vulgar use of the word led to several variants, most notably “Son of a Bitch” which generally refers to a man someone dislikes, rather than a man whose mother is a bitch.  What I found most interesting is that there is a little known definition of this word which is not vulgar in any way; it refers to a crude type of lamp used in Alaska and Canada.  A ‘bitch’ in this context means a tin can, filled with bacon grease and with a rag used as the wick.  This makes me want to say, next time I hear someone call a woman a bitch, “She’s not a crude tin lamp used in Alaska and Canada!”

My last word was Shit.  It was originally old English, though it developed also in French, Dutch, and several other languages.  Its first use in print was in 1308.  Its spelling has changed from ‘schite’, ‘schete’, or ‘schyte’ through a large number of changes until reaching the modern ‘shit’.  Its original meaning is to ‘void excrement’, which is a scientific way of saying ‘taking a dump’, or ‘pooping’.  While that definition is still in use today, shit has become something of an all-purpose word.  It can be used in slang to refer to various other types of waste, such as blood or a car’s exhaust.  To ‘shit yourself’ is a phrase meaning to be afraid, referencing someone who was so scared they pooped their pants in fear, though this use can be figurative.  ‘You’re shitting me’ means ‘you’re joking with me’, ‘shit a brick’ means ‘to be angry’, and ‘I don’t give a shit’ means ‘I don’t care’.  All these various uses of the word shit give it a great deal of versatility in its use in language.

In conclusion, I found it very educational, as well as very entertaining, to be able to write a paper about three words like Fuck, Bitch, and Shit.  I would like a chance to use these words again in a future school paper, but unless I am discussing the origin and use of the words in language, as with this paper, I do not believe most professors would condone the use of such words in their assignments.  What the fuck is up with that shit?

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