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As we all know, the underworld cannot fornicate as it is not a living being (probably).

Where then, did the natural-feeling pairing of swear-words "Fucking hell" come from?

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    I expect that the oath is old enough (and coarse enough) that no well-attested attribution is likely to be found. Good question, though.
    – Mick
    Jan 4, 2017 at 14:44
  • Possibly relevant Fucking Hell :) Jan 4, 2017 at 14:46
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    It originated after fucking had already bleached into an intensifier; rarely does fucking mean literal copulation any longer (of course it is still used that way, I just mean relative to its overall usage in daily discourse).
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 4, 2017 at 14:50
  • For future reference: Other than the crudity of subject matter, why is this considered a poor question?
    – Weckar E.
    Jan 5, 2017 at 10:44

1 Answer 1

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As several commenters have already suggested, this is really a question about when the word fucking came into common use as an intensifier—because once it acquired that role, it could be expected to attach to an infinite series of nouns and adjectives—hell, idiot, miracle, weather, job, government, unbelievable, Yankees, lawnmower, you name it.

But because fucking was for many decades a taboo word—utterly unacceptable in polite society—we can expect that its contemporaneous paper trail is weak and unrepresentative of its popularity in spoken English among the vulgar of past eras.

One sign that fucking has been a simple intensifier for a long time is this entry from J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, volume 3 (1903):

FUCKING, subs. (venery).—Generic for the 'act of kind.' [Examples from 1568 and 1575 omitted.]

Adj. (common). — A qualification of extreme contumely.

Adv. (common).—1. Intensive and expletive; a more violent form of BLOODY (q.v.).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010) notes that the primary meaning of contumely is "Rudeness or contempt arising from arrogance; insolence."

So fucking was already common as a modifier (both as an adjective and as an adverb) more than a hundred years ago, when lexicographers began acknowledging its existence at all.


Related Google Books search results

A Google Books search finds instances of "bloody hell" going back to September 1882, when New South Wales, Australia, court records in the case of The Queen v. Owen note that two witnesses heard the victim say to the defendant, "Who the bloody hell is speaking to you?"

Frederic Elworthy, The West Somerset Word-Book: A Glossary of Dialectal and Archaic Words and Phrases Used in the West of Somerset and Est Devon (1886) offers a fairly mild mild array of expletives in its entry for "oaths, imprecations, and exclamations"—mostly along the lines of "'Ad! Odds Bobs! I'm blamed if— ... I'm blowed— I'm burned— I'm b ... d— I'm cuss'd— I'm dal'd— I'm damn'd— I'm dang'd— I'm darn'd— ..." But it also offers this observation:

Lor! lawk! lawk-a-massy! massy soce! massy 'pon us! strike me! s'elp me! are, of course, mere conjunctives, and with some individuals "Hell! bloody hell!" serve to eke out most sentences.

And from "Periscope," in Medical and Surgical Reporter (July 3, 1886) we have this note by Dr. T.C. Railton reprinted from the April 1886 Medical Chronicle:

In 1882 I observed that a new phenomenon had supervened, rendering his [the patient's] complaint much more seriously inconvenient. Instead of the inarticulate cry, the movements were accompanied at times by a muffled sound, the purport o which could not be distinguished when it was first heard, but which became resolvable by its repetition into words never used in polite society. He would be painfully conscious of the effect upon his audience of the word or words he used, and would endeavor to turn off the obnoxious sound by continuing it either into a humming of a bar or two of music, or as a strenuous cough. ... The words uttered were usually "bloody hell," but sometimes he used words of a more filthy description, which it is needless to further particularize. ... Thus I have heard him inform a lady that it was "a bloody fine day," and immediately try to divert attention from the word by repeating "very fine," "very fine," with an emphasis upon the adverb.

Even earlier are instances of "bloody 'ell." From Ned Buntline, The Mysteries and Miseries of New York: A Story of Real Life, part 2 (1848):

"Wot the bloody 'ell's the hodds, now?" he asked. "Wot's the row? You in another muss, Bill? You'r allers a kicken up a muss!"

...

"The bloody 'ell, she has!" crid Jack—"we must jug her, till arter we've cracked his crib! She didn't say nothin habout the check?"

...

"Given hup hour lay?" growled Black Bill. "Wot the bloody 'ell's that fur!"

And from "Our Social Chair," in Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine (1858):

Struck aghast at the impieous spectacle before him, the box officer struck an attitude that even the Prince of all Princes of Denmark—poor Gus Adams—might have taken points from in the ghost scene. About the same time he struck the pieratical glutton, knocking his form nearly into pi, exclaiming, indignantly, "What the bloody 'ell 'ave you been habout? Hi told you to put the pie hinto the stove and 'eat hit. Hi didn't mean for you to heat it it, you hinfernal rogue you!"

It seems to me extremely likely that the blushworthy "bloody hell" of the 1800s was rendered in some quarters as the unspeakably filthy alternative "fucking hell." But gauging how far back in informal speech either expletive goes is quite difficult, owing to their taboo character.

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