Perhaps the earliest known use of the F-word has been discovered in a 16th-century collection of poems compiled by a bored student.
The student was allegedly in lockdown in Edinburgh during the European plague (sound familiar?) and the manuscript in question has recently been in the spotlight due to an upcoming BBC Scotland documentary.
An early use of the F-word has been discovered in a 500-year-old manuscript compiled by a bored student who was, fittingly, in lockdown due to the plague.
The poem containing the F-word is part of a 500-year-old manuscript called The Bannatyne Manuscript. The manuscript has been featured in an upcoming documentary, titled Scotland—Contains Strong Language, which is set to explore Scotland’s long tradition of swearing.
The manuscript was compiled by a young merchant from Edinburgh in the 16th-century and contains around 400 poems written by some of the country’s great bards of the 15th and 16th century.
Speaking on the manuscript, a spokeswoman for the National Library of Scotland described:
“It has long been known that the manuscript contains some strong swearwords that are now common in everyday language, although at the time, they were very much used in good-natured jest.”
There are five sections to the manuscript, each devoted to a different theme: religious, moral and philosophical, love ballads, fables, and allegories (particularly of a comedic or satirical nature). The notorious “fuck” most likely appears in the last section.
In the BBC documentary, Dr. Joanna Kopaczyk, a historical linguistics professor at Glasgow University, described the poem containing the word:
“In the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, when Kennedy addresses Dunbar, there is the earliest surviving record of the word ‘f***’ in the world.”
A medieval historian at the State University of New York, Purchase, has since disputed the claim that The Bannatyne Manuscript’s use of the F-word was, in fact, the earliest. According to Kristin Uscinski, there’s an even earlier use of the word recorded in 14th century Chesire. The word appears in a Chester county court plea roll, which refers to a man with the unfortunate name, Roger Fuckebythenavele.
Poor old Roger Fuckebythenavele. If you’re interested, head here to find out more.