In English, words get multiple meanings when they are used to associate a base definition with a different context. I leave for your later exploration the word “bear” as a beautiful example. The best way of identifying that base meaning is to explore what other words or phrases can possibly used for the same meaning in the same context.
The word Fuck is used in a bunch of differing and contradictory ways:
- A verb, meaning “to engage in sexual intercourse as an active and/or initiatory participant.” A sentence exemplar would be “She fucked him into the mattress.”
- An intensifier, meaning “extremely”. A sentence exemplar would be “That is so fucking cool.”
- A noun, meaning “all of existence” within the statement of an oath. A sentence exemplar would be “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” Compare with “What in the world do you think you are doing? and “What the hell do you think you are doing?” See also “What in God’s Name do you think you are doing?”
- A second verb, meaning “to cause great harm.” A sentence exemplar would be “They really fucked you over, didn’t they?” Another would be “Fuck that noise.” A third would be “Fuck the system.”
Let us leave the meaning of “to engage in sexual intercourse as an active and/or initiatory participant” for last.
First let us examine the meaning of “intensifier meaning ‘extremely'”. Most intensifiers default to a meaning of “big,” as in the sentence of “That is so very cool” or “That is so massively cool,” which both translate out to “I admire that to the extent that it changes my understanding of the thing itself.” Another example would be “That is so fucking awful,” with its translation of “That situation has caused enough harm to have altered your very life.” A third example would be “He is such a fucking pig,” with its translation of “His character and behavior remove him from all social acceptability.” We can therefore derive a specific meaning of this intensifier of “it changes one’s entire existence.”
Next, look at the meaning “‘all of existence’ within the statement of an oath.” Oaths are intensifiers with the base meaning of “May I be destroyed should that which witnesses my statement know that I lie. As I still exist, you know that I tell the truth.” The format of “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” is a demand that the audience justify their actions before the witness of the Ultimate Power, be that the world, the universe, God(s), or simple human decency. The sentence translates out to an entire comment. “I know that you have done this in the expectation that you are doing the right thing, because I know that you are not deliberately evil. I suspect that you have misunderstood the situation and therefore have chosen the wrong response. I demand that you explain to the best of your knowledge what you understood the situation to have been, followed by an explanation of why the action that you chose should have correctly addressed the situation.”
“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” is a lot quicker.
Lastly, let us examine “to cause great harm.” Sentences using the word in this fashion include “Fuck that” (“you,” “that idea,” “that group of people,” etc.), “Let’s fuck with him,” and “Well, that has really fucked the whole thing up.” As I have understood the “slang” senses of the word “Fuck”, this comes the closest to the base meaning applied to all the other uses.
It is useful, now, to point out that other words meaning “to engage in sexual intercourse” cannot be used in all of those sentences with any real sense. Examine “Bang,” “Screw” (both of which fit with “To cause great harm” but not any of the others), “Roger,” “Swive” (which can be made to fit with “intensifier meaning ‘extremely,'” but only with effort, and cannot fit with any of the others) — I am running short on my own knowledge, but feel free to match any that you know with the set of sentences. If it cannot be used in all of them, then it does not match the word “fuck.”
As Lewis Carrol said through Humpty Dumpty in “Through The Looking Glass,” “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Having accepted that to be the case, I choose to believe that all of the different uses of the word “fuck” are correct, and that they all default to the same meaning.
That meaning is “to acquire benefit and pleasure for the one doing the fucking through the process of causing harm to the one being fucked. And, when done effectively enough, to cause the one being fucked to be grateful for the experience.”
This meaning is based on the understanding of the word “rape.” A great deal has been said about “Rape culture,” but I will refer to only two situations, wildly separated in time, that have used the word “rape” in their designations. The first is “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” The second is “The Rape of Nanking.” Both refer to the causing of great harm to others for the benefit of the actors, in one case leading to the acceptance of the situation by those harmed; in the other being a cultural devastation to its survivors, their children, and all of their neighbors to this very day. I leave the investigation of those two instances to the reader, and invite a contemplation of the comparison of them to all the general uses of the word “fuck.”
The process that strong language goes through – curses, obscenity, scatology and blasphemy/profanity – is first to be used in extreme situations; then to be used by people whose lives are constantly extreme; then to be used by people who want to appear as though their lives are extreme; then to be used by people who want to appear “bad;” then to be used by everyone. At each step the strong language loses some of its intensity.
The word “fuck” is currently on two separate tracks to lose its intensity: on one track, people are reclaiming its base denotation, that of engaging in active sexual intercourse. On the other track, people are using it as an intensifier in so many different situations that it has apparently devolved to no stronger a word than the interjection “darn.”
The problem is that people are strenuously attempting to reject the fact that forcible sexual contact is and has been endemic to European-influenced cultures for millennia – for literally thousands of years extending well before the Roman or Greek or Persian empires. People are strenuously attempting to deny the reality that forcible sexual contact has destructive and devastating and continual impacts on those experiencing it. They are attempting a pretense that European-influenced “manners” or “politeness” around the world are not, in fact, based in methods of mediating and processing and avoiding forcible sexual contact.
The word “fuck” in this larger context becomes a depth bomb, a buried land-mine, that is liable to blow up under unexpected circumstances, as either the speaker or the hearer suddenly attribute the base connotation – “to acquire benefit and pleasure for the one doing the fucking through the process of causing harm to the one being fucked” – to the situation in which it has just been used.
I offer for your consideration the situation in which a man with whom I had become acquainted in a strictly online situation, offered his rejection and disapproval of an argument I had just made by stating “fuck you” to me.
He meant it as a relatively mild response.
However, as he had forgotten I had told him – or as had not occurred to him had any relativity to the conversation – I had been molested on an ongoing basis from my 9th year of life through to my 20th year of life first by my father, then by my mother’s brother, then by my mother’s lover.
At the point in time in which we had this conversation, I was still subject to ongoing hyperawareness and frequent flashbacks. We had discussed this in another conversation some weeks earlier. No doubt it had been set aside, or he no longer remembered it applied to me.
My attempt to convey to him my reaction to that “mild” phrase resulted in him taking me as an utter enemy and attempting to ruin my reputation and my experience in the online world.
He did not want me to tell him that he had just wished that I be raped again.
Understand the language you propose to use. Understand its possible impacts. Review the impacts that the language is liable to have on the person to whom you are speaking.
Having done that, use your language deliberately.
Or, as I have said in other contexts: take what you want, and pay for it.