I want to ask whether I can use the word "Fuck" in a formal context.

Apparently, the word dates back to the early 16th century, so it shouldn't be considered slang (although, it is misused as slang for other reasons), but regardless of its vulgarity, could I use it in a formal context with its original definition? I imagine that people will be surprised, but when realizing in what context I am using it in, then it will be more understandable and acceptable to use it.

Firstly, I do not even know the definition of the word due to its vastness in meaning, I always thought it was an exclamation-like word meaning nothing (for it to mean sexual activities is a slang definition, is that not correct?), but used purely for emphasis. What does it first and foremost mean in its original/accurate and/or formal definition?

I also know of another definition of the word "Fuck," which is "I will fuck you" as in "I will defeat you" (in context of fighting or combat), is that a formal definition as well? I mainly ask for this, because I need to use the word in this context, specifically and especially.

Also, side question, is it possible not to always make it a vulgar word?

Thanks in advance.


4 Answers 4


Let's just go ahead and say, no. It's questionable to use expletives here, so... unless you're writing a dissertation on the usage of the word in question, again: no.

You shouldn't use any word you don't know the definition of, but here at Stack Exchange you may use them to talk about them. They are permissible when they are the context.

  • 3
    That's great advice not only for the speech's writer/giver, but also for its translator! +1
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 21:37
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    "fuck" can be used formally when somebody wants to discuss about the word itself, or when quoting a person using it. Either way never use it outside of quotes. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 1:05
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    @Nihilist_Frost Really, in most situations where it's inappropriate to say "fuck", it's also inappropriate to quote somebody saying "fuck". For example, you wouldn't tell somebody to "fuck off" in a job interview and it doesn't become any better if, instead, you say "As [insert name of author] wrote, 'Fuck off'." Quotation marks aren't a get out of jail free card. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 10:24
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    @DavidRicherby You're confusing two different things. The first is the word itself, the second is the intended meaning. "As [author] wrote, 'Fuck off'." is more inappropriate because of the intended meaning than because of the word itself. Consider "**** off": even though the word itself isn't there, that's still inappropriate. Another example sentence: "He told me to 'fuck off'." Now the word is there, but the intended meaning is not to insult anyone, but only to accurately quote that other person. There are certainly formal contexts in which that can be used.
    – hvd
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 13:58
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    @hvd Sorry -- I chose a bad example. In most formal situations, even reporting "He told me to 'fuck off'" is inappropriate. There's no intent to insult but, also, there's no need to quote the other person at all: in most cases, you can summarize and say they swore at you. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 14:14

Firstly, I do not even know the definition of the word due to its vastness in meaning, I always thought it was an exclamation-like word meaning nothing (for it to mean sexual activities is a slang definition, is that not correct?)

As others have not spelt it out clearly: no, you are not correct. The original meaning of the word "fuck" is sexual activity (specifically, penetrative sex) and to use it in that way is vulgar but not slang. It seems to be closely related to words in other Germanic languages meaning to breed or to hit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuck

Use of the word is generally considered lowbrow and therefore avoided in a formal or genteel setting. Philip Larkin deliberately and skillfully breaks this rule in his poem This Be The Verse ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad".)

Biologists humorously refer to the four F's, which were introduced to me as "Feeding, Fleeing, Fighting and Sexual Activity". I prefer this deliberately non alliterative form to one in wikipedia which uses the workd "fornication." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Fs_(evolution). "Fucking" would actually be a better word than "fornication" here, because fornication refers specifically to extramarital sex, which is far too specific when describing the instinct (especially given that humans are the only animal to which marriage is even applicable.)

So yes, it can be used in a formal or highbrow literary setting, outside of simply linguistic discussion as mentioned in other answers. But it must be used very skillfully. And if you really have to ask you are probably better off not using it. If you want to discuss sex, you have many alternatives: "copulate" and "penetrate" are among the closest to the meaning of "fuck"; "make love" describes feelings of affection and not just a physical act, so its meaning is quite different.

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    Outstanding examples of formal use. Alluded-yet-omitted use is indeed perhaps the most powerful effect one can achieve.
    – zxq9
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 13:52

It is very unwise to use "fuck" in any formal context whatsover (outside of technical discussion of language). The word either has strong and forceful sexual meaning, or it has the debased banality of over-frequent use by those groups of society who lack nuances and who express themselves repetitively and coarsely. In neither case does the usage fit with formal discourse. In short, although an excellent word to describe a very pleasant and necessary activity, it is rude.

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    This is a tricky argument -- deriding a term by association with segments of society that you view negatively. Not every use of "fuck" lacks nuance, nor do "those groups of society" in every respect. Consider whether your argument lacks nuance. Even within "those groups" it would be difficult to find an appropriate use for this word in, say, a religious sermon or at a funeral.
    – zxq9
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 3:46
  • I sympathise with a concern for politically correct and non-judgemental comment on this one. Nevertheless, my necessarily brief answer reflects my extensive experience of the main usage of "fuck", despite any such sociological aspirations for balance and correctness.
    – Anton
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 7:10
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    I would just like to point out this scientific paper, presented recently at a meeting of the American Sociological Association, with the title "Fuck Nuance". If that's not a formal context, I don't know what is. Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 8:09
  • @Anton I am anything but politically correct. I am expressing a sincere concern. I have deep personal experience with crass language in informal, semi-formal and formal settings within industry, the military, and across more national boundaries than I can readily enumerate. I find it difficult, for example, to judge the word "fuck", the personage of Condoleezza Rice, or her former staff based on relative association. (This example comes from personal experience; I suppose it is partially "political" and also "correct".) Bill Gates does not lack nuance, yet he is a renowned fucktitioner. Etc.
    – zxq9
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 13:50

Yes, you can use "fuck" in some formal contexts. One instance is when you're discussing 'fuck' as a word (a "linguistics" context). Other instances exist. For example: if you write an essay quoting language as it is used by speakers. This essay might be an essay in any of a number of sociological domains other than linguistics.

As for the rest, the meaning of the word depends upon the use. 'Fuck' may be used, for example, as a noun, verb, or interjection, all with various senses. The OED labels all senses as "coarse slang".

Your intended use in the context of fighting or combat, 'to fuck up', is defined as

To injure, wound; to kill.

[From "fuck, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 17 October 2015. Transfigurative sense 2b. of phrasal verb 'to fuck up'.]

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