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First ‘F-word’ penned by Scottish student on lockdown during the plague, experts say

Illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. (CDC/TNS)
September 05, 2023

The earliest known usage of the “F-word” appears to have been penned by a bored student in 1568 during a nationwide lockdown due to the plague, according to a report.

The Bannatyne Manuscript, which dates back 500 years, is kept under wraps in the National Library of Scotland, but a documentary revealed the infamous word’s potential origin, the Daily Mail Online reported.

Scottish singer and playwright Cora Bissett hosted the documentary called “Scotland – Contains Strong Language,” which explores Scotland’s history with swear words.

The Scottish student, named George Bannatyne, wrote the Bannatyne Manuscript while he was bored in his Edinburgh home during a lockdown brought on by the plague during the 16th century. The manuscript is a collection of poems that contains William Dunbar’s epic poem, The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie.

The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie tells the story of two poets who trade insults with one another. In it, Kennedy calls Dunbar a “wan fukkit funling.”

“In the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, when Kennedy addresses Dunbar, there is the earliest surviving record of the word ‘f-ck’ in the world,” Joanna Kopaczyk, a historical linguist at Glasgow University, told viewers. “It might never quite make the tourist trail, but here in the National Library, we have the first written ‘f-ck’ in the world. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

A spokeswoman for the National Library told The Scotsman that the manuscript contains many swear words that are common in everyday language today, but “at the time they were very much used in good-natured jest.”

The 500-year-old story shares obvious similarities with modern times. Although COVID-19 is far, far less deadly – as the Black Death at one point killed off half of Europe – much of the world went into lockdown over the virus in 2020.