We Interviewed the Historian Who Just Found the Oldest Use of the Word 'Fuck'
In 1310, Roger the Navel-Fucker was banned from Chester County.
A historian in the UK just made an exciting discovery that's changing our understanding of the word "fuck."
Paul Booth, an honorary senior research fellow in history at Keele University, was recently digging around in the Chester county court plea rolls from December 8, 1310—and really, who hasn't dug around in there? That was when he came upon three write-ups from the court clerk, telling the sad story of a guy with the unenviable name of Roger Fuckebythenavele, or seemingly: "Roger the Navel-Fucker."
According to Themedievalists.org "fuck" popped up seemingly by accident in 1278 as part of a translation of the German word "fulcher," meaning soldier. That really wouldn't count. This, on the other hand, would be the first instance of the word being used the way we use it today, beating out recent discoveries like the one from around 1475, or one found last year from 1528.
Here is Roger the Navel-Fucker's story in its entirety, courtesy of the UK's National Archives.
1. County court of Chester, held on Tuesday after the feast of St Nicholas, 4 Edw. II, before Payn Tibotot, justiciar of Chester (8th December, 1310) A man called "Roger Fuckebythenavele" was exacted for the first time [the process preliminary to outlawry].
2. County court of Chester, held on Tuesday after the feast of the Ascension, 4 Edw. II, before Payn Tibotot, justiciar of Chester (25th May, 1311) Roger Fukkebythenavele, exacted.
3. County court of Chester, held on Tuesday the vigil of Michaelmas, 5 Edw. II, before Payn Tibotot, justiciar of Chester (28th September, 1311) Roger Fuckebythenavel', outlawed.
What just happened to poor Roger? Granted, being "outlawed," means banished, but why the horrible moniker? Was the court clerk just being a dick, or is that Roger's real last name? To find out, we got in touch with Paul Booth, the guy who made the discovery, to ask for his expert opinion on what all this means.
VICE: What's the significance of this discovery?
Paul Booth: The significance is the occurrence of (possibly) the earliest known use of the word "fuck" that clearly has a sexual connotation.
What were you doing when you found this?
Part of what I am doing in my retirement is to study the legal records of Cheshire for the turbulent reign of Edward II (1307-27), which are extremely rich. This name simply popped out of the parchment. Roger had failed to answer at the county court, is being solemnly summoned ('exacted') and finally outlawed.
Was the clerk cracking a joke, figuring that Roger would never know about it?
As the name is written three times—spelled slightly differently each time—it is unlikely to be the case of the clerk just inserting a joke name, I think. Even if it were, that does not take away the significance of the use of the word 'fuck' in a name.
So could it be his real name?
If it is a real name—a nickname, presumably—there seem to me to be two possible explanations for its application to Roger. First, that it applies to an actual event—a clumsy attempt at sexual intercourse by an 'Inexperienced Copulator' (my name for Roger), revealed to the world by a revengeful former girlfriend. Fourteenth-century revenge porn perhaps? Or it could be a rather elaborate way of describing someone regarded as a "halfwit"—i.e., that is the way that he would think of performing the sexual act.
Will this instance end up in the Oxford English Dictionary?
I have told the OED about it, and it's up to them what they will do. You might like to ask them, and let me know what they say.
Got any other great curse word stories from digging through these archives?
I haven't come across any other names of this type myself, but my pal at Keele, Dr. Philip Morgan, tells me of names such as Hunfridus de aureo testiculo—Humphrey of the golden testicle, and Rogerus deus salvat feminas—Roger God-save-women, as well as the Winchester tenant, Alwin Clawecunt—speaks for itself.
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