An English historian has come across the “F word” in a court case dating back to 1310, making it the earliest reference to the swear word. Dr Paul Booth of Keele University found the name ‘Roger Fuckebythenavele’ as he was documenting the trial.

Cheshire County Court Rolls – TNA CHES 29/23 – photo by Paul Booth

“The significance is the occurrence of (possibly) the earliest known use of the word that clearly has a sexual connotation,” he said in an interview with Vice.

Dr Booth a former lecturer in medieval history and an honorary senior research fellow in history at Keele University, and he made the discovery accidentally. He believes that this wasn’t his real name, and was likely a nickname.

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“This surname is presumably a nickname. I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word ‘dimwit’ i.e. a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it.”

He also mentioned that initially, he thought the name was meant as a joke by the court clerk, but was repeated three times and therefore was likely no joke.

“Either it refers to an inexperienced copulator, referring to someone trying to have sex with the navel, or it’s a rather extravagant explanation for a dimwit, someone so stupid they think that this is the way to have sex,” he said in an interview. “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 in a name.”

The records suggest that Roger Fuckebythenavele was called to court three times between September 1310 and May 1311, when he was “outlawed,” which might mean executed or exiled.

Previously, the earliest reference of the word was in the famous poem Flen flyys. This is the colloquial name for an untitled, anonymous poem where the word fuccant is used – a Latinized version of the f-word. Written half in English and half in Latin, the poem satirised Carmelite monks in the English county of Cambridgeshire. The poem takes its name from the opening line Flen, flyys and freris meaning “fleas, flies and friars”.

Despite what you may read, the word itself is of Germanic origin, having clear sexual connotations but also meaning ‘to strike’ or ‘to move back and forth’.”