One of the many jobs I had while in graduate school was teaching English as a Second Language to foreign graduate students, visiting researchers, and teaching assistants. I really enjoyed teaching ESL, and I particularly enjoyed the sincere desire of these students to learn and use American English. Most, if not all, of these students had studied British English, so they tended to have a rather good grasp of the syntax of the English language. However, the semantics of the English language both written and spoken often times presented a challenge for these individuals. And of course, the English that was used in the US only further complicated this dilemma.
Unlike my other colleagues who focused solely on safe, accepted topics of discussion and exploration, I frequently introduced highly controversial topics embedded with a plethora of culturally charged notions which attempted to present an American scenario of a given topic. Often times these lessons dealt with politics, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. The purpose of these lessons was not only to learn about the English language of the US, but also to engage in a meaningful dialogue allowing the students to share their ideas based in their respective cultures with me as well as with each other.
I thrived on student participation, and in fact, incorporated into the syllabus a designated day when I would I would present a topic that was submitted by one of the students. Each student had the opportunity to submit one topic each Tuesday that we later explored on Friday. This gave both the other students and myself sufficient time to prepare for the topic. Although all the topics were extremely interesting and engaging, the topic that was handed in by a 42 years-old robotics engineer (who was a visiting researcher from Japan) was my favorite and definitely the most challenging lesson that I ever had to give in my native language. He wanted us to explore the meaning(s) of the word fuck.
The word was not unfamiliar to me. I had heard the word used in films, television shows, plays, novels, poetry, magazine articles, songs etc. And yes, I even used the word as well as many derivatives of the word myself. However, I never stopped to think about how the word was being used grammatically. Obviously I understood the semantics that were conveyed when using the term, but when I considered the word under a linguistic microscope, I learned that this four letter word was one of the most remarkable and versatile words in the English language. Furthermore, I understood completely the confusion that many non-English speaking people may have when hearing or seeing this word employed in spoken or written language.
In short, here’s what we considered and reviewed in my ESL class of adult learners. I hope you find this as entertaining and thought provoking as I did.
Out of all the words in the English language, fuck is the only one referred to as the F-word. And although there are a number of four letter words in English, fuck is often times referred to as the four-letter-word, or the F-bomb. It is considered to be one of the most offensive words in the English language, however, as I mentioned, there are many more potent words that could rival it. The students had expressed and interest in knowing if the word was always considered to be offensive, or if it was simply a more recent linguistic phenomena. Unfortunately, I did not know, but I did encourage them to investigate the question further.
As a transitive verb, to fuck generally means to have sexual intercourse with someone, or to take advantage of someone. As a intransitive verb, to fuck generally means to have sexual intercourse, to behave in a foolish manner, or to meddle in the affairs of another person.
Dick fucks Jane. (transitive verb)
Dick has sexual intercourse with Jane.
Dick fucks around too much. (intransitive verb)
Dick has sexual intercourse too much, or Dick fools around too much.
It is important to note that the word fuck and it’s derivatives do not always have a sexual connotation. The use of fuck is further enhanced by the use of a prepositions to create idioms. I am sure that there are a lot of these, however, the ones that commonly come to mind include: to be fucked up (messed up, drunk as in intoxicated), to be fucked over (to mistreat), to fuck with (to mess with, joke with, play with).
John began drinking as soon as he arrived at the party. Five hours later, he was really fucked up.
John began drinking as soon as he arrived at the party. Five hours later, he was really intoxicated.
As usual when John drinks too much he becomes so aggressive and hateful. Last Saturday, he really fucked over his wife. John gave her a bloody nose.
Last Saturday night, he really mistreated her. John gave her a bloody nose.
Look, I didn’t mean to scare you like that. I was just fucking with you.
Look, I didn’t mean to scare you like that. I was just joking/playing with you.
Fucking can be used as an adjective modifying a noun. Likewise fucking can be used as an adverb modifying an adjective. Fuck can also be used as an interjection.
Dick is a fucking idiot. (adjective)
Dick is a foolish idiot.
Jane is fucking beautiful. (adverb)
Jane is very beautiful.
Fuck! This insect is really disgusting.
Wow! Or perhaps Yuck! This insect is really disgusting.
Fuck can also be used as a noun to convey a wide variety of meanings which include, but are not limited to, aggression, apathy, confusion, difficulty, dismay, dissatisfaction, fraud, incompetence, inquiry, and sexual encounter, trouble. Let’s consider the following examples:
Don’t fuck with me! (aggression)
Don’t mess with me!
I don’t give a fuck! (apathy)
I don’t care!
What the fuck is going on here? (confusion)
What is going on here?
I can’t figure this out. Fuck it! (dismay)
I can’t figure this out. I give up!
I don’t like what the fuck is going on here. (dissatisfaction)
I don’t like what is going on here.
I got fucked over by the street vendor. He sold me a broken watch. (fraud)
I got taken by the street vendor. He sold me a broken watch.
What a fuck he is! He didn’t even see the ball coming. (incompetence)
What an idiot he is! He didn’t even see the ball coming.
Who the fuck is he? (inquiry)
Who is he?
John said that Mary was a good fuck. (sexual encounter)
John said that Mary was a good sexual encounter.
John lost his term paper. He is really fucked now. (trouble)
John lost his term paper. He is really in trouble now.
I also discovered in my two days of research pertaining to the word fuck, that it is a word that can be placed within certain words. In English, the linguistic term used to explain this phenomena is infix. Consider this sentence:
Mary is infuckingcredible! She got all the answers correct.
Mary is incredible! She got all the answers correct.
Obviously, the insertion of fucking simply adds further emphasis to how incredible (or smart in this case) Mary is. When fucking is omitted the sentence still conveys meaning.