Home VocabularyQuirky vocab F words are not to be feared

F words are not to be feared

by Bernard O'Shea

There’s the so-called dreaded F word in English, but on the whole the F words conjure up notions of friendliness and fun. You can frolic, have a fling, flutter your eyelids and show off your flattering figure. You can be fabulous, fantastic, formidable and feel festive or flirtatious while playing footsy-footsy. You can be fresh as a daisy, a pretty flamingo, enchantingly feline or foxy (remember Mott the Hoople singing “Foxy, Foxy, come out tonight”?

Another crucial F word, if you believe the sign bottom right in the photo above, is fertility. Easily achieved by touching a marble appendage! If you want to know why I chose a photo of Adonis, blame the Romanian segment below.

The F word is very popular in everyday English vocal usage, but newspapers and magazines are often very coy about it, printing it thus: f*ck. Sometimes, though, discretion can work against you. When I was chief sub-editor at The Australian Financial Review newspaper we once had f**ck in an article; this caused a furore in the Tasmanian Parliament, where frivolous MPs noted that our esteemed publication could not spell the four-letter word. Some years later, the newspaper made headlines worldwide when it accidentally printed the headline WORLD IS FUKT on the front page. Thankfully I had left the paper by then, I would have hated that to happen on my watch?

Do F words in my five Romance languages offer frissons of excitement? Let’s see.

French

I flipped open my big Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary at a random page in the French F section, and the word that leaped out at me was fesser, to spank. It was not a word they taught us at school (although the Jesuits there did lots of spanking). In case you think I have a spanking fetish, let me assure you, I don’t. I was just puzzled that the word is so different from the English one. A fess in English is “a wide horizontal band across the centre of a heraldic field”. In French, however, les fesses (feminine, by the way) are the buttocks or more colloquially, the bum or butt. As you can imagine, people being what they are, there are many juicy slang expressions linked to this part of the anatomy.

  • poser les fessesto park oneself 
  • il y a de la fesse icithere’s some sexy stuff here!
  • serrer les fessesto be scared stiff (serrer means to grip or tighten)
  • pousse tes fessesmove over, shove over!
  • attention à tes fesseswatch your step
  • un coup de pied aux fessesa kick up the backside
  • avoir chaud aux fessesto have a narrow escape (lit. have heat in the buttocks)

Other words that caught my eye were farfouiller, to rummage about in, and, ahem, farter, to wax (your skis etc).

When your ski instructor in France wants you to “fartez”, don’t be alarmed. He’s just waxing lyrical.

Italian

This language has a lovely word for handkerchief, (head) scarf or tissue: fazzoletto. And un fazzoletto di terra is the equivalent of a patch of land.

I also like frastornare, to daze, befuddle or bewilder. The adjective frastornato (or –nata in the feminine) means dazed, bewildered and also deafened, as un frastuono is a noise or din.

Portuguese

I picked frente. It’s very practical, and an Australian band loved the word so much they used it as their name with an exclamation mark after it, so its cultural significance has expanded. Frente has many uses – its dictionary entry is quite lengthy – but basically it means the front, frontal part, face, advanced guard etc, and is useful when seeking directions. Porta da frente is the front door, banco da frente is a front seat, de trás para frente is backwards and forwards, and para frente means go ahead. In English, when someone is looking for something that is very visible, we say it’s right under your nose, in Portuguese they use ‘in front’ rather than ‘under’ – em frente ao seu nariz. I like this expression too – Saia da minha frente! Get out of my sight!

Frente! had one top 10 hit in Australia in 1992, Accidentally Kelly Street, but probably got the most airplay for their acoustic cover of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle.

Romanian

The language has lovely F words, such as frumuseţe and fericire.

Frumuseţe means beauty or splendour, and there is an expression, Ce frumuseţeWhat a beauty! … People often say that when I walk by :). The related adjectives are frumos in the masculine form and frumosă in the feminine – useful if you want to compliment a Romanian on their looks. My dictionary translates tânăr frumos into English as an Adonis (I was one of those in 1979 or thereabouts). Tânăr means a youth or young man.

Fericire means happiness, and the related adjectives fericit and fericită (feminine) are often used to wish someone a happy something, such as ‘happy Christmas‘ … Cracium fericit.

Spanish

Fastidiarse, which means to put up with or to grin and bear it, seems an appropriate word for 2020. There are some great  expressions that go with it. No fastidies!– for example – can mean You’re kidding! And que se fastidie can be translated as that’s his tough luck, or as we sometimes say in English, he can lump it. Fastidiarse is related to the verb fastidiarto annoy, bother, sicken, disgust.

For now, a fond farewell! M5R

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raveca 10/02/2014 - 10:49 am

As always, I had fun reading your post. And I also learned a few interesting new words/expressions. Thank you.
I was very fericită and flattered that you chose the words I suggested in Romanian, and that you linked my blog. Mulţumesc frumos (as some people say for “thank you very much”, instead of “mulţumesc mult”).
As for the French slang, that amused me the most. We also say in Romanian “pousse tes fesses” (miscă-ti fundul), especially to kids, or to someone who protests a lot or can’t seem to make up their mind, but I never imagined that watching your step could have anything to do with any parts of the body except feet or legs. It’s funny how languages of the same origin develop completely different over time.

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Bernard O'Shea
Bernard O'Shea 10/02/2014 - 11:55 am

Hi, thanks for your feedback, and it was my pleasure to link to your blog. Thanks as always for your insights into Romanian. You are right, too, about the slang generating the most amusement. I find the dictionaries that look at slang and vulgarisms etc are more entertaining, they put a human personality on the language and bring it alive. Still got G-Z to go! Cheers

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raveca 10/02/2014 - 5:36 pm

Good luck!

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