Posted in Book Stuff

*The F-Word

In the interest of scientific endeavour, and using google’s Ngram, A pointed out to me that the word fuck reached its apex of use in the printed word in 1700, and even now, despite the rise in popularity of fuck, has only reached halfway to that peak.This corresponds to the baroque period, as A informs me, and therefore perhaps fuck and fugue in some way co-relate.

I read recently about Google’s Ngram application, which searches the google books’ database for frequency of words or phrases. It can also graph 2 at a time and compare them within the parameters you set. The above was done between 1600 and 2008 using a smoothing factor of 10. The longer the time period, the more useful it is have have a higher smoothing factor, the shorter the period the smaller the smoothing factor.

Try it yourself–have fun!

Thank you A for the laughs and the enlightenment, as always!



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

9 thoughts on “*The F-Word

  1. That was one of searches I did first too, and was amazed. However, if you look at some of the documents, the answer becomes obvious: Google’s scanning software picked up the typographic long-s as f’s. The words it’s picking up are actually “suck”.

  2. LOL. Of course, how could I forget that, ATG. I’ll have to run it again. Interestingly, suck reaches a peak in 1650 and declines to almost nothing within a 100 years. It reaches a 2nd peak (about 1/2 as high) in the early 1800’s, declines within 50 years and plateaus there.

  3. I compared woman and lady too. They run pretty close together until 1830 or so. Then woman takes off and lady declines. Feminist has a steep curve that peaks around 1995. There is endless fun here!

  4. Ah, the traps antique typography lays for the unwary! But lest one conclude that my socio-linguistic observation is altogether baseless, note that “cunt” also peaks right around 1700, drops off by about 50% by 1730, and by another 50% by 1830, and then makes a comeback in starting around 1960, and overtakes 1700 around 1980. There isn’t the huge spurious 1700 spike we see in the graph above, but the u-shaped pattern is quite similar.

  5. Now the c-word is one I don’t like. Others are gender neutral, but that is a word I find painful.

    I had some trepidation with this post because I do try to make my blog family friendly, and now I am entirely caught out by MG who is underage (but does know the words of which we speak).

  6. Litlove, not me! When I was young I tried to learn to read German with a small and old novel that had the extended s that looked like f. Along with the capitalized nouns, I found it too confusing and gave up.

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