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The origin of “fuckin’ eh”

2004.03.20 — Culture | Language | by Roland Grant

The Fonz

Fuckin' aaaaaay! [Happy Days Online]

The question came up recently among the staff of Tysto as to the origin and spelling of the mysterious phrase "fucking eh" or "fucking A."

"Fuckin' eh" decidedly derives from "eh" and "hey" as an exclamation, dating back at least to the 1940s and particularly popular in Canada, where they say "eh" a lot anyway.

I've seen discussions in word maven circles that perhaps "A" is short for "ass" as in "A-hole" (this is called a "minced oath" by scholars), but clipping "ass" makes no sense when you've already said "fuck." Others have suggested that the "A" stands for "affirmative" or "grade A."

The position taken by The Straight Dope's SamClem, in what could be the very worst Straight Dope* article ever, is that it originated as "you bet your fucking ass." SamClem fails to attempt any rational analysis of the question and instead relies strictly on personal folk etymology. Later, on the Straight Dope message board, SamClem does attempt an analysis:

All cites which follow are from Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. I:

l. 1947, Mailer, The Naked & The Dead, p.21 [referring to WWII]: "You're fuggin ay," Gallegher snorted.

2. 1961, Peacock Valhalla, p.181 [referring to 1953]: Fucking A.

The above are examples of usage meaning "yes indeed, absolutely (correct)." Almost certainly WWII military origins.

Just because it surfaces in writing about WW2, doesn't mean that's the origin. Works like The Naked and the Dead were the first to depict war with the raw language really used ("fug" excepted)—RG

1955, Sack Here to Shimbashi, p.18: "That was a mighty freaking-A loud sneeze," declared the sergeant major.

1960, Sire Deathmakers, p.211 [referring to WWII]: "You can fucking-aye say that again." Used to mean "very well" in this instance.

Lighter says "origin unknown" and adds: "perhaps abstracted from a phrase such as 'you're fucking A-number-one right!'"

...there are no examples... of
the long versions...

So even the Slang Dictionary thinks it is a case of clipping, but without any evidence of it. The problem with all these theories is that the earliest examples generally spell it "ay" (or something like it) and there are no examples I've ever seen of the long versions: "you bet your fucking A" or "fuck an ass" or "fucking affirmative" or anything else. Since you can't shorten something that was never long, the "ay" must always have been its own word.

The spelling is now quite commonly "fucking eh," modeled after more common uses of "eh" alone, but "fucking ay" is certainly also acceptable. I view "fucking A" as mistaken and misleading.

This says nothing about the origin of the word "fuck" itself, which is one of the oldest surviving words in the English language and whose origins are generally accepted.

 

* Cecil Adams is God. All hail Cecil Adams.

 

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