top of page

Classic F#@*ing Literature

Not typical classroom vocabulary, but a historical lesson nonetheless!

That oft used F word can be a noun, an adjective, a verb, an adverb, a grammatical ejaculation… even stuck right in the middle of a word!

We start seeing this versatile word in the thirteenth century, likely stemming from the Latin word 'futuere' or the German term 'ficken', both meaning to hit or penetrate which some scholars believe did carry a sexual connotation at the time. However, the etymology of the word is difficult to trace as it was a spoken word more than written. It remained censored and whenever written could only appear using the typographical symbols (like # % $ *) to suggest the word—a practice we still recognize today as representing a swear word.

What does this all have to do with classic literature?

In 1960, Penguin Books was prosecuted for its publication of the uncensored text of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) which meant the cross-social/economic love story would find its way into the hands of women and the working class. At the time, literature had to be acceptable reading for teenage girls, and, given the subject matter and vulgar word choices, Lady Chatterley's Lover certainly seemed to have the power to corrupt this impressionable audience.

The prosecution even opened their argument by providing a count of how many times the F word appears in the novel. The jury, made up of both sexes, had to consider if the novel as a whole would do any harm to society—not the individual word—and if the benefit of the works artistic value outweighed the potential social harm.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was found to be "justified in the interests of science, literature, art and learning" and acquitted. This allowed for the novel to be published, with the F word appearing in full for the first time in centuries.

Interestingly, just three months after the trial more than three million copies of the edition were sold. Talk about a profitable PR campaign! And a social shift occurred where vulgar words, intimacy, and infidelity became less taboo in arts and entertainment.


Looking for further reading? You may also like:


bottom of page