a word of vague etymology, perhaps a convergence of two or more words, given wide application in late 19c. and settling into its main modern meaning "floozie" from early 1920s, with a revival in 1980s.
Bimbo first appears as the name of an alcoholic punch, mentioned in newspapers from New York state (1837), Boston (1842), and New Orleans (1844, but as having come from Boston). This sense quickly fades, though it occasional is on menus as late as 1895.
From 1860-1910, Bimbo as a proper name is frequent: It is the name or part of the name of several race horses, dogs, and monkeys, a circus elephant (perhaps echoing Jumbo), and a jester character in a play. It is in the title of a three-act musical farce ("Bimbo of Bombay"), and the name of a popular "knockabout clown"/actor in England and several other stage clowns. Also it appears as a genuine surname, and "The Bimbos" were a popular brother-sister comedy acrobatics team in vaudeville.
A separate bimbo seems to have entered American English c. 1900, via immigration, as an Italian word for a little child or a child's doll, evidently a contraction of bambino "baby."
By 1920 it began to be used generally of a stupid or ineffectual man, a usage Damon Runyon in 1919 traced to Philadelphia prize-fight slang. He wrote, that July, in a column printed in several newspapers, of a hotel lobby fist-fight between "Yankee Schwartz, the old Philadelphia boxer," and another man, which Schwartz wins.
"No Bimbo can lick me," he said, breathlessly, at the finish.
"What's a Bimbo?" somebody asked "Tiny" Maxwell, on the assumption that "Tiny" ought to be familiar with the Philadelphia lingo.
A bimbo," said "Tiny," "is t-t-two degrees lower than a coo-coo—cootie."
The word does turn up in Philadelphia papers' accounts of prizefights (e.g. "Fitzsimmons Is No Bimbo," Evening Public Ledger, May 25, 1920).
By 1920 the sense of "floozie" had developed (said to have been popularized by "Variety" staffer Jack Conway), perhaps boosted by "My Little Bimbo Down on Bamboo Isle," a popular 1920 song in which the singer (imploring the audience not to alert his wife) tells of "his shipwreck on a Fiji Isle and the little Bimbo he left down on that Bamboo isle." Its resurrection in this sense during 1980s U.S. political sex scandals led to derivatives including diminutive bimbette (1990) and male form himbo (1988).
"sequence of sensations or images passing through the mind of a sleeping person," mid-13c., probably related to Old Norse draumr, Danish drøm, Swedish dröm, Old Saxon drom "merriment, noise," Old Frisian dram "dream," Dutch droom, Old High German troum, German Traum "dream." These all are perhaps from a Proto-Germanic *draugmas "deception, illusion, phantasm" (source also of Old Saxon bidriogan, Old High German triogan, German trügen "to deceive, delude," Old Norse draugr "ghost, apparition"). Possible cognates outside Germanic are Sanskrit druh- "seek to harm, injure," Avestan druz- "lie, deceive."
Old English dream meant "joy, mirth, noisy merriment," also "music." Much study has failed to prove that Old English dream is the source of the modern word for "sleeping vision," despite being identical in form. Perhaps the meaning of the word changed dramatically, or "vision" was an unrecorded secondary Old English meaning of dream, or there are two words here.
OED offers this theory for the absence of dream in the modern sense in the record of Old English: "It seems as if the presence of dream 'joy, mirth, music,' had caused dream 'dream' to be avoided, at least in literature, and swefn, lit. 'sleep,' to be substituted ...."
The dream that meant "joy, mirth, music" faded out of use after early Middle English. According to Middle English Compendium, the replacement of swefn (Middle English swevn) by dream in the sense "sleeping vision" occurs earliest and is most frequent in the East Midlands and the North of England, where Scandinavian influence was strongest.
Dream in the sense of "that which is presented to the mind by the imaginative faculty, though not in sleep" is from 1580s. The meaning "ideal or aspiration" is from 1931, from the earlier sense of "something of dream-like beauty or charm" (1888). The notion of "ideal" is behind dream girl (1850), etc.
Before it meant "sleeping vision" Old English swefn meant "sleep," as did a great many Indo-European "dream" nouns originally, such as Lithuanian sapnas, Old Church Slavonic sunu, and the Romanic words (French songe, Spanish sueño, Italian sogno all from Latin somnium. All of these (including Old English swefn) are from PIE *swep-no-, which also is the source of Greek hypnos (from PIE root *swep- "to sleep"). Old English also had mæting in the "sleeping vision" sense.
late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another," from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" (source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav); so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.
The oldest written history of the Slavs can be shortly summarised--myriads of slave hunts and the enthralment of entire peoples. The Slav was the most prized of human goods. With increased strength outside his marshy land of origin, hardened to the utmost against all privation, industrious, content with little, good-humoured, and cheerful, he filled the slave markets of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It must be remembered that for every Slavonic slave who reached his destination, at least ten succumbed to inhuman treatment during transport and to the heat of the climate. Indeed Ibrāhīm (tenth century), himself in all probability a slave dealer, says: "And the Slavs cannot travel to Lombardy on account of the heat which is fatal to them." Hence their high price.
The Arabian geographer of the ninth century tells us how the Magyars in the Pontus steppe dominated all the Slavs dwelling near them. The Magyars made raids upon the Slavs and took their prisoners along the coast to Kerkh where the Byzantines came to meet them and gave Greek brocades and such wares in exchange for the prisoners. ["The Cambridge Medieval History," Vol. II, 1913]
Meaning "one who has lost the power of resistance to some habit or vice" is from 1550s. Applied to devices from 1904, especially those which are controlled by others (compare slave jib in sailing, similarly of locomotives, flash bulbs, amplifiers). Slave-driver is attested from 1807; extended sense of "cruel or exacting task-master" is by 1854. Slave state in U.S. history is from 1812. Slave-trade is attested from 1734.
It is absurd to bring back a runaway slave. If a slave can survive without a master, is it not awful to admit that the master cannot live without the slave? [Diogenes, fragment 6, transl. Guy Davenport]
Old English Wealh "Briton" also began to be used in the sense of "serf, slave" c. 850; and Sanskrit dasa-, which can mean "slave," apparently is connected to dasyu- "pre-Aryan inhabitant of India." Grose's dictionary (1785) has under Negroe "A black-a-moor; figuratively used for a slave," without regard to race. More common Old English words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian "to serve") and þræl (see thrall). The Slavic words for "slave" (Russian rab, Serbo-Croatian rob, Old Church Slavonic rabu) are from Old Slavic *orbu, from the PIE root *orbh- (also source of orphan (n.)), the ground sense of which seems to be "thing that changes allegiance" (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot.
"female intercrural foramen," or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, "the monosyllable," Middle English cunte "female genitalia," by early 14c. (in Hendyng's "Proverbs" — ʒeve þi cunte to cunni[n]g, And crave affetir wedding), akin to Old Norse kunta, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, and Middle Low German kunte, from Proto-Germanic *kunton, which is of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with Latin cuneus "wedge" (which is of unknown origin), others to PIE root *geu- "hollow place," still others to PIE root *gwen- "woman."
The form is similar to Latin cunnus "female pudenda" (also, vulgarly, "a woman"), which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps literally "gash, slit" (from PIE *sker- "to cut") or "sheath" (Watkins, from PIE *(s)keu- "to conceal, hide"). De Vaan rejects this, however, and traces it to "a root *kut-meaning 'bag', 'scrotum', and metaphorically also 'female pudenda,' " source also of Greek kysthos "vagina; buttocks; pouch, small bag" (but Beekes suspects this is a Pre-Greek word), Lithuanian kutys "(money) bag," Old High German hodo "testicles."
Hec vulva: a cunt. Hic cunnus: idem est. [from Londesborough Illustrated Nominale, c. 1500, in "Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies," eds. Wright and Wülcker, vol. 1, 1884]
First known reference in English apparently is in a compound, Oxford street name Gropecuntlane cited from c. 1230 (and attested through late 14c.) in "Place-Names of Oxfordshire" (Gelling & Stenton, 1953), presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Used in medical writing c. 1400, but avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c.
in Middle English also conte, counte, and sometimes queinte, queynte (for this, see Q). Chaucer used quaint and queynte in "Canterbury Tales" (late 14c.), and Andrew Marvell might be punning on quaint in "To His Coy Mistress" (1650).
"What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone? Is it for ye wolde haue my queynte allone?" [Wife of Bath's Tale]
Under "MONOSYLLABLE" Farmer lists 552 synonyms from English slang and literature before launching into another 5 pages of them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. [A sampling: Botany Bay, chum, coffee-shop, cookie, End of the Sentimental Journey, fancy bit, Fumbler's Hall, funniment, goatmilker, heaven, hell, Itching Jenny, jelly-bag, Low Countries, nature's tufted treasure, penwiper, prick-skinner, seminary, tickle-toby, undeniable, wonderful lamp, and aphrodisaical tennis court, and, in a separate listing, Naggie.] Dutch cognate de kont means "a bottom, an arse," but Dutch also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, literally "cave of love," and vleesroos "rose of flesh."
Alternative form cunny is attested from c. 1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for "rabbit": "A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, 'No money, no coney.' " [Philip Massinger: "The Virgin-Martyr," Act I, Scene 1, 1622]
word-forming element meaning "back, back from, back to the original place;" also "again, anew, once more," also conveying the notion of "undoing" or "backward," etc. (see sense evolution below), c. 1200, from Old French re- and directly from Latin re- an inseparable prefix meaning "again; back; anew, against."
Watkins (2000) describes this as a "Latin combining form conceivably from Indo-European *wret-, metathetical variant of *wert- "to turn." De Vaan says the "only acceptable etymology" for it is a 2004 explanation which reconstructs a root in PIE *ure "back."
In earliest Latin the prefix became red- before vowels and h-, a form preserved in redact, redeem, redolent, redundant, redintegrate, and, in disguise, render (v.). In some English words from French and Italian re- appears as ra- and the following consonant is often doubled (see rally (v.1)).
The many meanings in the notion of "back" give re- its broad sense-range: "a turning back; opposition; restoration to a former state; "transition to an opposite state." From the extended senses in "again," re- becomes "repetition of an action," and in this sense it is extremely common as a formative element in English, applicable to any verb. OED writes that it is "impossible to attempt a complete record of all the forms resulting from its use," and adds that "The number of these is practically infinite ...."
Often merely intensive, and in many of the older borrowings from French and Latin the precise sense of re- is forgotten, lost in secondary senses, or weakened beyond recognition, so that it has no apparent semantic content (receive, recommend, recover, reduce, recreate, refer, religion, remain, request, require). There seem to have been more such words in Middle English than after, e.g. recomfort (v.) "to comfort, console; encourage;" recourse (n.) "a process, way, course." Recover in Middle English also could mean "obtain, win" (happiness, a kingdom, etc.) with no notion of getting something back, also "gain the upper hand, overcome; arrive at;" also consider the legal sense of recovery as "obtain (property) by judgment or legal proceedings."
And, due to sound changes and accent shifts, re- sometimes entirely loses its identity as a prefix (rebel, relic, remnant, restive, rest (n.2) "remainder," rally (v.1) "bring together"). In a few words it is reduced to r-, as in ransom (a doublet of redemption), rampart, etc.
Prefixed to a word beginning with e, re- is separated by a hyphen, as re-establish, re-estate, re-edify, etc. ; or else the second e has a dieresis over it: as, reëstablish, reëmbark, etc. The hyphen is also sometimes used to bring out emphatically the sense of repetition or iteration : as, sung and re-sung. The dieresis is not used over other vowels than e when re is prefixed : thus, reinforce, reunite, reabolish. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
a Middle English merger of Old English line "cable, rope; series, row, row of letters; rule, direction," and Old French ligne "guideline, cord, string; lineage, descent" (12c.), both from Latin linea "linen thread, string, plumb-line," also "a mark, bound, limit, goal; line of descent," short for linea restis "linen cord," and similar phrases, from fem. of lineus (adj.) "of linen," from linum "linen" (see linen).
The earliest sense in Middle English was "cord used by builders for taking measurements;" extended late 14c. to "a thread-like mark" (from sense "cord used by builders for making things level," mid-14c.), also "track, course, direction." Meaning "limit, boundary" (of a county, etc.) is from 1590s. The mathematical sense of "length without breadth" is from 1550s. From 1530s as "a crease of the face or palm of the hand." From 1580s as "the equator."
Sense of "things or people arranged in a straight line" is from 1550s. Now considered American English, where British English uses queue (n.), but the sense appears earliest in English writers. Sense of "chronologically continuous series of persons" (a line of kings, etc.) is from late 14c.
Meaning "one's occupation, branch of business" is from 1630s, according to OED probably from misunderstood KJV translation of II Corinthians x.16, "And not to boast in another mans line of things made ready to our hand," where line translates Greek kanon which probably meant "boundary, limit;" the phrase "in another man's line" being parenthetical.
Commercial meaning "class of goods in stock" is from 1930, so called from being goods received by the merchant on a line in the specific sense "order given to an agent" for particular goods (1834). Insurance underwriting sense is from 1899. Line of credit is from 1958.
Meaning "series of public conveyances" (coaches, later ships) is from 1786; meaning "continuous part of a railroad" is from 1825. Meaning "telegraph wire between stations" is from 1847 (later "telephone wire"). Meaning "cord bearing hooks used in fishing" is from c. 1300. Meaning "policy or set of policies of a political faction" is 1892, American English, from notion of a procession of followers; this is the sense in the political party line, and, deteriorated, it is the slang line that means "glib and plausible talk meant to deceive."
In British army, the Line (1802) is the regular, numbered troops, as distinguished from guards, auxiliaries, militia, etc. In the Navy (1704) it refers to the battle line (the sense in ship of the line, which is attested from 1706).
Dutch lijn, Old High German lina, German Leine, Old Norse lina "a cord, rope," are likewise from Latin. Spanish and Italian have the word in the learned form linea. In continental measurements, a subdivision of an inch (one-tenth or one-twelfth in England), attested in English from 1660s but never common. Also see lines.
To get a line on "acquire information about" is from 1903. To lay it on the line is from 1929 as "to pay money;" by 1954 as "speak plainly." End of the line "as far as one can go" is from 1948. One's line of work, meaning "pursuit, interest" is from 1957, earlier line of country (1861). Line-drawing is from 1891. A line-storm (1850) is a type supposed to happen in the 10 days or two weeks around the times the sun crosses the equator.
1530s spelling alteration (see wh-) of Middle English hore, from Old English hore "prostitute, harlot," from Proto-Germanic *hōran-, fem. *hōrā- (source also of Old Frisian hor "fornication," Old Norse hora "adulteress," Danish hore, Swedish hora, Dutch hoer, Old High German huora "prostitute;" in Gothic only in the masc. hors "adulterer, fornicator," also as a verb, horinon "commit adultery"), probably etymologically "one who desires," from PIE root *ka- "to like, desire," which in other languages has produced words for "lover; friend."
Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. The Old English vowel naturally would have yielded *hoor, which is the pronunciation in some dialects; it might have shifted by influence of Middle English homonym hore "physical filth, slime," also "moral corruption, sin," from Old English horh. The wh- form became current 16c. A general term of abuse for an unchaste or lewd woman (without regard to money) from at least c. 1200. Of male prostitutes from 1630s. Whore of Babylon is from Revelation xvii.1, 5, etc. In Middle English with occasional plural forms horen, heoranna.
The word, with its derivatives, is now avoided polite speech; its survival in literature, so as it survives, is due to the fact that it is a favorite word with Shakspere (who uses it, with its derivatives, 99 times) and is common in the authorized English version of the Bible ... though the American revisers recommended the substitution of harlot as less gross .... [Century Dictionary]
Some equivalent words in other languages also derive from sources not originally pejorative, such as Bohemian nevestka, diminutive of nevesta "bride;" Dutch deern, German dirne originally "girl, lass, wench;" also perhaps Old French pute, perhaps literally "girl," fem. of Vulgar Latin *puttus (but perhaps rather from Latin putidus "stinking;" see poontang). Welsh putain "whore" is from French, probably via Middle English. Among other languages, Greek porne "prostitute" is related to pernemi "sell," with an original notion probably of a female slave sold for prostitution; Latin meretrix is literally "one who earns wages" (source of Irish mertrech, Old English miltestre "whore, prostitute").
The vulgar Roman word was scortum, literally "skin, hide." Another term was lupa, literally "she-wolf" (preserved in Spanish loba, Italian lupa, French louve; see wolf (n.)). And of course there was prostituta, literally "placed in front," thus "publicly exposed," from the fem. past participle of prostituere (see prostitute (n.)). Another Old Norse term was skækja, which yielded Danish skøge, Swedish sköka; probably from Middle Low German schoke, which is perhaps from schode "foreskin of a horse's penis," perhaps with the sense of "skin" (compare Latin scortum) or perhaps via an intermediary sense of "vagina." Spanish ramera, Portuguese rameira are from fem. form of ramero "young bird of prey," literally "little branch," from ramo "branch." Breton gast is cognate with Welsh gast "bitch," of uncertain origin. Compare also strumpet, harlot.
Old Church Slavonic ljubodejica is from ljuby dejati "fornicate," a compound from ljuby "love" + dejati "put, perform." Russian bljad "whore" derives from Old Church Slavonic bladinica, from bladu "fornication." Polish nierządnica is literally "disorderly woman." Sanskrit vecya is a derivation of veca- "house, dwelling," especially "house of ill-repute, brothel." Another term, pumccali, means literally "one who runs after men." Avestan jahika is literally "woman," but only of evil creatures; another term is kunairi, from pejorative prefix ku- + nairi "woman."
late Old English mægester "a man having control or authority over a place; a teacher or tutor of children," from Latin magister (n.) "chief, head, director, teacher" (source of Old French maistre, French maître, Spanish and Italian maestro, Portuguese mestre, Dutch meester, German Meister), contrastive adjective ("he who is greater") from magis (adv.) "more," from PIE *mag-yos-, comparative of root *meg- "great." The form was influenced in Middle English by Old French cognate maistre.
From late 12c. as "man eminently or perfectly skilled in something," also "one who is chief teacher of another (in religion, philosophy, etc.), religious instructor, spiritual guide." Sense of "master workman or craftsman, workman who is qualified to teach apprentices and carry on a trade on his own account" is from c. 1300. The meaning "one charged with the care, direction, oversight, and control of some office, business, etc." is from mid-13c.; specifically as "official custodian of certain animals kept for sport" early 15c. (maister of þe herte houndes; the phrase master of the hounds is attested by 1708). As a title of the head or presiding officer of an institution, late 14c.; as "captain of a merchant vessel" early 14c.
In the broadest sense, "one who has power to control, use, or dispose (of something or some quality) at will," from mid-14c. Also from mid-14c. as "one who employs another or others in his service" (in which sense the correlative word was servant, man, or apprentice); also "owner of a living creature" (a dog, a horse, also, in ancient contexts a slave); paired with slave in the legal language of the American colonies by 1705 in Virginia.
In academic sense "one who has received a specific degree" (translating Medieval Latin magister) it is attested from mid-13c., originally "one who has received a degree conveying authority to teach in the universities;" master's degree, originally a degree giving one authority to teach in a university, is from late 14c.
Also used in Middle English of dominant women. From 1530s as "male head of a household." As a title or term of respect or rank, mid-14c. As a title prefixed to the name of a young gentleman or boy of the better class not old enough to be called Mr., short for young master (late 16c.). Sense of "chess player of the highest class at national or international level" is by 1894. Meaning "original of a recording" is by 1904.
As an adjective from late 12c. Master-key, one that will open ("master") a number of locks so differently constructed that the key proper to each will open none of the others" is from 1570s. Master race "race of people considered to be pre-eminent in greatness or power" (typical in reference to Nazi theories of the Aryan race, perhaps based on German Herrenvolk) is by 1935. From 1530 as "artist of distinguished skill;" old masters is attested by 1733.
Master bedroom, "bedroom designed for the use of the owner of the property," as opposed to bedrooms for children or guests, is by 1919 in U.S. home-builders publications (e.g. Building Age, April 1919). It seems to be based on the English master's bedroom (by 1903) "bedroom of a headmaster or other master at an English boarding school or other similar institution."
The top floor was treated much the same as the two lower ones. Here the closet was made just a bit larger so as to allow for a bathtub, thus pushing the partition forward, making the front room less deep than the rooms below, yet paradoxically larger, because it takes in the whole front of the house. This is what is known in English advertisements as the "Master's bedroom." [The House Beautiful, June 1921]
late 14c., "full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree;" also "wanton, lewd, lascivious" (late 12c. as a surname, Philippus de Gay), from Old French gai "joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert; light-colored" (12c.; compare Old Spanish gayo, Portuguese gaio, Italian gajo, probably French loan-words). Ultimate origin disputed; perhaps from Frankish *gahi (related to Old High German wahi "pretty"), though not all etymologists accept this.
Meaning "stately and beautiful; splendid and showily dressed" is from early 14c. Of things, "sumptuous, showy, rich, ornate," mid-14c. of colors, etc., "shining, glittering, gleaming, bright, vivid," late 14c.; of persons, "dressed up, decked out in finery," late 14c.
In the English of Yorkshire and Scotland formerly it could mean "moderately, rather, considerable" (1796; compare sense development in pretty (adj.)).
The word gay by the 1890s had an overall tinge of promiscuity -- a gay house was a brothel. The suggestion of immorality in the word can be traced back at least to the 1630s, if not to Chaucer:
But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose.
Slang meaning "homosexual" (adj.) begins to appear in psychological writing late 1940s, evidently picked up from gay slang and not always easily distinguished from the older sense:
After discharge A.Z. lived for some time at home. He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being "gay," and wearing female clothes and makeup. He always wished others would make advances to him. [Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniques, 1947, p.240]
The association with (male) homosexuality likely got a boost from the term gay cat, used as far back as 1893 in American English for "young hobo," one who is new on the road, also one who sometimes does jobs.
"A Gay Cat," said he, "is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about hunting for another 'pick and shovel' job. Do you want to know where they got their monica (nickname) 'Gay Cat'? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after chumming with you and then get gay (fresh). That's why we call them 'Gay Cats'." [Leon Ray Livingston ("America's Most Celebrated Tramp"), "Life and Adventures of A-no. 1," 1910]
Quoting a tramp named Frenchy, who might not have known the origin. Gay cats were severely and cruelly abused by "real" tramps and bums, who considered them "an inferior order of beings who begs of and otherwise preys upon the bum -- as it were a jackal following up the king of beasts" [Prof. John J. McCook, "Tramps," in "The Public Treatment of Pauperism," 1893], but some accounts report certain older tramps would dominate a gay cat and employ him as a sort of slave. In "Sociology and Social Research" (1932-33) a paragraph on the "gay cat" phenomenon notes, "Homosexual practices are more common than rare in this group," and gey cat "homosexual boy" is attested in Noel Erskine's 1933 dictionary of "Underworld & Prison Slang" (gey is a Scottish variant of gay).
The "Dictionary of American Slang" reports that gay (adj.) was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense at least since 1920. Rawson ["Wicked Words"] notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals (but also to female prostitutes) in London's notorious Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889. Ayto ["20th Century Words"] calls attention to the ambiguous use of the word in the 1868 song "The Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store," by U.S. female impersonator Will S. Hays, but the word evidently was not popularly felt in this sense by wider society until the 1950s at the earliest.
"Gay" (or "gai") is now widely used in French, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Swedish, and Catalan with the same sense as the English. It is coming into use in Germany and among the English-speaking upper classes of many cosmopolitan areas in other countries. [John Boswell, "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality," 1980]
As a teen slang word meaning "bad, inferior, undesirable," without reference to sexuality, from 2000.
"to have sexual intercourse with" (transitive), until recently a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original OED when the "F" entries were compiled (1893-97). Johnson also had excluded the word, and fuck wasn't in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. "The Penguin Dictionary" broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with "The American Heritage Dictionary," but it also published a "Clean Green" edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.
Written form attested from at least early 16c.; OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit, and the earliest attested appearance of current spelling is 1535 ("Bischops ... may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit" [Sir David Lyndesay, "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits"]). Presumably it is a more ancient word, but one not written in the kind of texts that have survived from Old English and Middle English [September 2015: the verb appears to have been found recently in an English court manuscript from 1310]. Buck cites proper name John le Fucker from 1278, but that surname could have other explanations. The word apparently is hinted at in a scurrilous 15c. poem, titled "Flen flyys" ["Fleas, Flies (and Friars)"], written in bastard Latin and Middle English. The relevant line reads:
Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli
"They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely." Fuccant is pseudo-Latin, and in the original it is written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise are from Scottish, which suggests a Scandinavian origin, perhaps from a word akin to Norwegian dialectal fukka "copulate," or Swedish dialectal focka "copulate, strike, push," and fock "penis."
Another theory traces the Modern English verb to Middle English fyke, fike "move restlessly, fidget" (see fike) which also meant "dally, flirt," and probably is from a general North Sea Germanic word (compare Middle Dutch fokken, German ficken "fuck," earlier "make quick movements to and fro, flick," still earlier "itch, scratch;" the vulgar sense attested from 16c.). This would parallel in sense the vulgar Middle English term for "have sexual intercourse," swive, from Old English swifan "to move lightly over, sweep" (see swivel). But OED remarks that these "cannot be shown to be related" to the English word. Liberman has this to say:
Germanic words of similar form (f + vowel + consonant) and meaning 'copulate' are numerous. One of them is G. ficken. They often have additional senses, especially 'cheat,' but their basic meaning is 'move back and forth.' ... Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.
Chronology and phonology rule out Shipley's attempt to derive it from Middle English firk "to press hard, beat." The unkillable urban legend that this word is an acronym of some sort (a fiction traceable on the internet to 1995 but probably predating that), and the "pluck yew" fable, are results of ingenious trifling (also see here). The Old English verb for "have sexual intercourse with" was hæman, from ham "dwelling, home," with a sense of "take home, co-habit." French foutre and Italian fottere seem to resemble the English word but are unrelated, descending rather from Latin futuere, which perhaps is from PIE root *bhau- "to strike," extended via a figurative use "from the sexual application of violent action" [Shipley; compare the sexual slang use of bang, etc.].
Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word continued in common speech, however. During World War I:
It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger. [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
The legal barriers against use in print broke down in mid-20c. with the "Ulysses" decision (U.S., 1933) and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (U.S., 1959; U.K., 1960). The major breakthrough in publication was James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" (1950), with 50 fucks (down from 258 in the original manuscript).
The abbreviation F (or eff) probably began as euphemistic, but by 1943 it was regarded as a cuss word in its own right. In 1948, the publishers of "The Naked and the Dead" persuaded Norman Mailer to use the euphemism fug. When Mailer later was introduced to Dorothy Parker, she greeted him with, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck' " [The quip sometimes is attributed to Tallulah Bankhead]. As a written euphemism, muck is attested by 1929 (Hemingway used it in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," 1940). Related: Fucked; fucking.
Fuck-all "nothing" first recorded 1960. Verbal phrase fuck up "to ruin, spoil, destroy" is attested from c. 1916. A widespread group of Slavic words (such as Polish pierdolić) can mean both "fornicate" and "make a mistake." Fuck off is attested from 1929; as a command to depart, by 1944. Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, "If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!" [Reinhold Aman, "Maledicta," Summer 1977].