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In Laura Linney’s latest movie, Hyde Park on Hudson, one character uses F*#% and it caught me off guard. The movie is set among the part of FDR’s administration that would stay with him at his ancestral home in update state NY. The specific scene happens around 1939. The curse is uttered by the President’s body man, a character who sees to the President’s personal needs (driving his car, carrying him around when his wheelchair isn’t available, etc.) At one stressful point, this character, who is running through the woods at night at the time (so not in a social situation), uses F*#%.
It completely took me out of the movie because it felt like a term that wasn’t in popular use in 1939. I had no justification for this feeling, though. And my friends who went to the movie with me didn’t find it odd at all.
The quick poking around I did online wasn’t helpful. Does anyone know when F*#% became a common enough part of the vernacular that it would be used in a situation like this?
Thanks in advance,
I cannot point to a classic movie pre-1960 or any media before then that uses that word. That makes me feel like the word was not used so often back then.
But I say it is an absolutely fair speculation that the word is so natural for exclamations and curses, that it must have been used that way since the very beginning of language, all languages.
But if you are talking about pinning down when exactly it took on that form, sound and spelling, that’s different.
The Oxford English Dictionary has:
Expressing anger, despair, frustration, alarm, etc.
1929 F. Manning Middle Parts of Fortune II. 161 A man..uttered under his breath a monosyllabic curse. ‘Fuck.’
Obviously, the word is used as an interjection in the spoken language (maybe especially this coarse word, long) before it is committed to print.
Interfering with attempts to find this word in print in or around 1939 is the fact that it was quite literally considered “unprintable” at that time.
Likewise, you won’t find it in any popular films of the time because of the Hays Office.
However, there are certain bawdy songs that were recorded on “party records” that, while they may not explicitly use such language, imply it in ways that make it clear that the word was not only used, but the common folk were expected to recognize the allusion.
Well this result from Ngram is interesting. Seems like the term fell out of use for pretty much 150 years. Previous to that, the citations have a confusing mix of uses and meanings. Its resurgence as an interjection/exclamation in the 60s-70s is not surprising.