Language

The Return of Roger Fuckebythenavele

Oldest use of the word fucke sexually in writing pushed back 150 years.

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Roger Fuckebythenavele may well sound like a character out of a Monty Python sketch, but although the Pythons created characters with names like "Mr. Smoketoomuch," even they didn't try to get away with a Fuckebythenavele family.

No, Roger seems to have been real enough. His name turns up three times in English court records beginning in 1310, part of a legal process by which Mr. Fuckebythenavele was being "outlawed." When such a process was complete, as it was in his case the next year, outlawed persons could be executed on sight, apparently by anyone, without further legal formalities.

However, Roger is not achieving fame these 700 years on because he was so unpopular with his Chester County neighbors, though he seems to have been notably unwelcome among them. Rather, Roger's surname, which has become rather rare in the ensuing centuries, represents the oldest written use of the word fucke as a sexual term thus far known. Indeed, it pushes back the first recorded use of this indispensable term by over 150 years.

Roger was discovered by Dr. Paul Booth of Keele University, a retired medievalist. "One of my current projects is looking at records of Edward 2nd, a time of great turmoil," he told The Daily Mail. "I've been going through these magnificent records, and I came across this by accident—it really does shout out at you." Dr. Booth originally thought the reference was a bored clerk's joke, but after the third legal reference to Mr. Fuckebythenavele, he was persuaded that that was how Roger was actually known to his displeased contemporaries.

Colorful descriptive surnames were common enough among northern Europeans of this era, as any fan of Icelandic sagas knows only too well. Lars Lumberfoot was the Lars with a wooden leg, to distinguish him from the innumerable other Larses to be encountered daily. Eric Wormintheeye was the Eric much in need of a skilled Viking ophthalmologist. Roger Fuckebythenavele was the Roger who, well, there are a couple of theories to account for his notably descriptive name.

Dr. Booth thinks that the name could indicate a person of great stupidity, "a dimwit," as he suggests, whose neighbors characterized his ignorance with this nice sobriquet, as in, "Roger is so stupid he thinks you fuckebythenavele." Alternatively, the name may describe a person of profound naivety and inexperience. Roger, Dr. Booth surmises, may have attempted to fuckebythenavele early in his sexual experimentation, the story eventually getting around an amused Chester County, and the epithet emerging as his defining characteristic. If that happened, it could have embittered Roger somewhat, causing him to become sufficiently unpleasant with his neighbors to the point where they took action against him so that they could legally kill him on sight. But we speculate idly.

Of course, such "surnames" were not inherited; Roger's son, if he had one, though his name would make that seem somewhat unlikely, would not be Roger Fuckebythenavele, Jr. or even Roger Fuckebythenaveleson. The unlikely offspring would be known by his own personalizing characteristic, such as a wormintheeye.

Prior to Roger's emergence from obscurity, the oldest known use of the term in English came from an anti-clerical poem written around 1475, "Flenn Flyys." It contains the less-than-immortal line, "fvccant vvivys of heli," explaining that the Carmelite friars of Cambridge are not in paradise because "they fuck the wives of Ely," Ely being the nearby cathedral city. Note that fvccant is formed of a third-person Latin plural ending stuck on an Anglo-Saxon root. Furthermore, that portion of the work actually appears in code, each letter being replaced with the letter following (and taking into account alphabet changes). Thus the line actually reads, "Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk." Fuck's debut in English, as it has long been considered, is actually in preposterous disguise, and the appearance of Roger Fuckebythenavele should come as an orthological relief.

For the record, there's a known case that predates Roger, but medievalists think it's ambiguous. It involves a person named John le Fucker. He turns up in 1278, but his name may be a sloppy spelling of the word, fulcher, or "soldier." Of course, it's also possible John's surname is spelled quite correctly, and that posterity is denying Mr. le Fucker the reputation for which his contemporaries named him.

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  1. We only know about Roger because he got himself on someone’s disposition matrix, the poor fuck.

    1. Goddamn fistie. You stayed up until 4AM to be first to comment on a fuck joke. You need an intervention.

      1. You have to admit, those last three words were genius for a guy with no sleep under his belt.

  2. I originally heard about this on NPR. Listening to the soothing, dulcet tones of the NPR ninnies dance around the topic of discussion was quite a chuckle – they insisted on saying “Roger F-Word-bythenavele” like the incorrigible little quislings they are. Im being harsh though – I listen to NPR fairly nonstop, as thanks to the equal air time regs of the last several decades NPR is the only place on the radio dial that will play the news, outside of the talk radio folks, of whom I prefer to neither speak nor listen.

  3. It is a funny story and equally fun tracing naughty words in history. But something I read in the dim past came to mind. It was stated (somewhere) that the origin of fuck was Old Germanic “fuch,” meaning “to stick, to stab, etc.” If this was the very oldest Anglo-Saxon sense of the word, then maybe poor Roger was known for, accused of, and outlawed for knifing people in the navel–a common pastime of the period. Thus, Roger’s name would explain his outlawry, not his stupidity. Still, I do like the current interpretation better than my party-pooping wonderings.

  4. I was going to say that if you’re trying to go through the navel, you’re doing it wrong. But Charles Freund headed that pass off by implication in the article. Thanks, Charles! ;-/

  5. Gave them a good rogering, did he? It would make a good movie.

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