Last week, an image from a 1528 manuscript referencing an Abbot went viral claiming to be the first written instance of the word "fuck". As with most historical internet fodder, though, it pays to look a little closer at the fine print.
Inspired by the spreading of that image last week - and hopefully to educate those of you who somehow think it actually stands for "Fornication Under Consent of the King" - history and language scholar Kate Wiles has written a piece called "On the Origin of Fuck". It's a lot more in-depth, and it's a lot more interesting.
She's nothing if not comprehensive, going as far back as the 13th century to find names like John le Fucker (1278), Fuckebegger (1286/7, pictured below) and the excellent Simon Fukkebotere (1290) the latter which was related to, um, making butter. Sadly, most of those earlier appearances are marked inconclusive, or put down to typos or bird names (who knew the common kestrel used to be called a windfucker?).
Things start to get firmer by the 1300s. There's records from Bristol, dated 1373, referring to a place called Fockynggroue. Wiles writes that this is "a name akin to Lovegrove", and that "while the instances before this are possibly to do with getting down and nasty, this one's pretty conclusive, and predates the Fucking Abbot by 155 years."
Then there's the matter of a Scottish poem written by W. Dunbar, in 1513, which has the line 'Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit'. People somehow discount this because it's "Scottish", despite the fact that, as Wiles points out, it appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary.
So there you have it. Birds, butter and lovegroves. Truth, once again, is stranger than internet fiction.