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.