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The cover of the most recent Economist (March 16 - 22nd 2019) has in large type

OH **UK! Whatever next?

From the context, this is clearly a comment on the current Brexit mess.

Is ** UK related to F * * K, and if so, how? Did the Economist transpose C and U to be more polite? Or, more likely, does UK refer to the United Kingdom, and if so, how do we interpret ** ?

This should be obvious, and I will probably hit myself on the head when it is explained, but for now the inscrutable Brits have me baffled.

Googling **UK gets me many referenced to the UK (the nation), but no explanation of the **.

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    It's a kind of pun clearly meant to make you think of F*K, but identifying that with *UK because Brexit is an issue for the UK.
    – Robusto
    Mar 17 '19 at 1:45
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The article is pretty clearly about the UK and it's also portraying a situation where "oh fuck" would be an appropriate thing to say. However, they can't use "fuck" and still have the joke work. So "**UK" could stand for "fcuk" (it wouldn't be the first time a joke like this was made) or it could stand for "phuk", which is basically an alternate slang spelling of "fuck". Or it might not stand for any letters in particular; the point is for you to know it means "oh fuck".

(I don't think this has anything to do with British English.)

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    +1 Laurel "I don't think this has anything to do with British English." Mar 17 '19 at 8:49
  • A retailer has built their particular brand on the joke. But yes, it's not restricted to British English, although the transposition of letters to make it relevant to the UK might restrict any global appeal.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 17 '19 at 9:36
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    Australia's Northern Territory is probably too small a market for this type of thing. Mar 17 '19 at 12:20

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