Sunday, October 29, 2006

What the

[posted by Callimachus]


In reading older books on Islamic history I gleaned among the footnotes that there was a notable 19th century German scholar with the name "Johannes Fück." Saved by an umlaut, I guess, but the above-cited corporation, in the beautiful city of Koblenz, headed by a Herr Johannes Fuck, goes naked and shameless without it.

I'm not sure where the German name comes from. Perhaps it was manhandled from fuchs "fox," also common as a surname, and, as in English, probably originally applied to red-haired or cunning people. Some of the German or German-Jewish Fuchses who emigrated to America never anglicized the name. Which oversight had occasionally embarrassing consequences for their daughters, at least in my high school.

Or, more likely by my guess, it is some derivation of the common Germanic stem represented by English and German folk. An old Germanic *folc-here, literally "people-army," seems to have been productive of names on the Continent. Fulcher was a given name (the chronicle of the cleric Fulcher of Chartres is one of our chief sources for the Christian view of the First Crusade). Fuch was a pet-form of the name in medieval England, and I'll bet that is the source of the German surname in which the "-ch" has a harder sound.

Fulcher also passed into use as a surname in its full form, though with some sound modifications. It is the likely source of most of the Folgers and Fulchers in English, the Dutch Volkers and perhaps the Fuggers, the renowned 16th century family of merchants and financiers of Augsburg.

In medieval English, this someties turns up as Fucker, as in the Nicholas Fuker who is recorded on the rolls for 1234 in Devonshire. The John le Fucker cited in 1278, however, may have been named for the verb.

A German "V" would sound like our "F." The German equivalent copulation-verb, ficken, has a common form that sounds an awful lot in English like "Vicks," which our West German exchange students always got a good laugh out of when they went down the U.S. grocery store aisle with the cough medicine. [ed. - This paragraph re-writtren after a factual error was pointed out by a commenter.]