We’ve had books about where famous sayings, like “raining cats and dogs” and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, have come from. One explanation of the expletive “fuck” – the only one I know of – is that the word was an acronym standing for “Fornication Under Consent of the King”. It’s said that when a couple wanted to have sex they would seek royal permission for the act. Having obtained it, they would put a sign on the door notifying people of the fact. (The invention of the necktie simplified the situation, if not dignified it.)

This explanation seems unlikely for several reasons, based on language and logic.

1. Fornication means sexual contact with anyone that you aren’t married to. In almost every society it is considered wrong. In religious societies it is considered a sin; not an act you would advertise. A monarch who wanted the support of good Christians or Muslims would not openly allow people to commit such a sin; however, there would be nothing immoral if the king gave permission for a married couple to have sex. The problem then arises that once a couple is married, sex is no longer fornication. So why slander consensual marital sex by tarring it with this dark epithet?

Nevertheless, some Christians held the belief that sex was a necessary evil. Even after the time when the English monarch became head of the Church, only priests were given authority, Catholics at least believed, to absolve sins. So why seek the king’s permission to commit evil when only the priest had power to free one from that burden? Isn’t the priest the person one should ask?

(Tangentially, the Bible – whatever we think about it – states that God created everything, and created it good. The implication is that God created sex, up to and including orgasm; and as the abuse of something doesn’t negate its proper use, we can infer that although fornication is any improper use of sex, sex itself is still a good gift of God. [The act itself can’t actually be good or bad, as it isn’t an entity capable of making moral choices. It can be used properly or improperly; if the former, it can still be used well or poorly.] On a further tangent, I believe sex is an excellent way to temporarily stop the manifestations of Tourette’s Syndrome.)

2. The idea that sex must be regulated by a ruler is, on the face of it, silly to we who live with multiple means of birth control; but this isn’t enough to reject it. The only vaguely sensible reason there would be for the policing of copulation would be if the society couldn’t sustain an unregulated increase in population. Even if a monarch were megalomaniacal enough to try to control the sex life of every one of his subjects, by the time the guards had arrived the couple should have had enough time to ensure they weren’t caught in flagrante delicto. Also, in Christianised countries, if a monarch were to try to regulate who could and couldn’t have sex, he would be considered an antichrist by the Catholic Church, who, as is well known, stand against any form of birth control. This would result in a stand-off between Church and State, and standing behind the Church would be almost every person in the kingdom – Christian, Muslim, atheist or Kwagsliq!

3. One doesn’t act “under” consent but “by” or “with” it. Consent involves agreement and permission; either given by a superior or made with an equal. One does not stand under or alongside consent.

4. My dictionary gives the source of “fuck” as the German language of the Middle Ages and carries the connotation of striking something. This explanation is less imaginative than the acronymic explanation, and far more plausible.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2008.