5.0616 More F* Etymology (1/55)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 20 Jan 1992 17:43:46 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0616. Monday, 20 Jan 1992.

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1992 21:05 EET
Subject: F word: ProtoIE *peug-/*peuk- 'prick'

Bob Krovetz (5.0578) brought forward a good reference: Allen Walker Read's
paper in American Speech 9:4 (1934). This is something to begin
with. According to Read, _fuck_ is cognate with Latin _pungere_
'to knock, strike'. Formally & semantically, this is more probable
than not.

For semantic parallels, see e.g. J.N.Adams (1982) The Latin
Sexual Vocabulary. London: Duckworth. P.245-249. Cf. also _prick_
in all its acceptations.

The formal side is somewhat messy, but not hopelessly so.
Latin _pungere_ involves the _n_-infixed root _pug_, which can
be analyzed as a zero-grade variant of the proto-Indo-European (PIE)
root *_peug_ 'to prick, jab, sting, stick'. There are a few PIE roots
having consonantal variation. *_peug_ is one of that ilk: besides
PIE *_peug_, there is PIE *_peuk_ (the same meaning), which is
reflected in Greek _peuke_ 'spruce'. There can be no doubt that
originally _peuke_ designated 'the pricking, prickly (tree)'
(needles! -- needless to say); cf. e.g. Greek _ekhe-peukes_ 'sharp,
piercing' (= 'having a piercing point'; said of a spear or an arrow)
and _peuk-almos_ 'sharp' (of intelligence), &c.

Given PIE *_p(e)ug_ (> Lat. _pu(n)g-_) alternating with
PIE *_p(e)uk_ (> Gk _peuk-_),

let's consider the Germanic side of the problem. Engl. _fuck_ is
_ficken_ in German. It is true, that it is impossible to show
conclusively that these words are etymologically related; but
it would be unethical not to try the possibility. Semantics
creates no problems, but it seems impossible to relate
the _u_ in _fuck_ and the _i_ in _ficken_ formally. But also
this kind of incompatibility has a close parallel: there can
be no doubt that German _Fichte_ 'spruce' and Greek _peuke_ 'spruce'
are etymologically related. Given PIE *_peuk_, the Proto-Germanic
reflex must be *_feuh-_ or *_fiuh_, and indeed Old High German
has _fiuhta_. How OHG _fiuhta_ evolved to _Fichte_, I do not know;
the change _iu_ > _i_ is unpredictable, BUT it did happen.

Now, there is reason to think that _Fichte_ reflects the PIE
root variant *_peuk_. It MAY be the case that German _ficken_
reflects the root variant *_peug_, but this is very speculative.
But it's not a bad idea to trace _fuck_ back to Middle English
*_fuken_, as is suggested in the 2nd ed. of OED. This form can
be looked upon as reflecting Proto Germanic *_fuk-_, which
can be mapped onto PIE *_pug_ (> Latin pu(n)g-), and this goes
all lautgesetzlich.

The semantics of the PIE ancestors of the English "F word"
seems as messy as its contemporary acceptations. Or almost.
A friend of mine (from the USA) once saw a guy who was desperately
trying to start his car. But without much success: "Fuck, this fucking fuck
won't fuck!!!" Well, maybe this is common folklore?
Se non e` vero e` ben trovato, eh? :-) ;-) :-)
Martti Nyman (University of Helsinki, Dept of General Linguistics,
Hallituskatu 11-13, SF-00100 Helsinki, Finland)