A WTF-y addition to the tradition of F-word euphemisms.
As fans of 30 Rock (or this column) know, Tina Fey’s awesome comedy has been a fertile breeding ground for new words and expressions. “Blurgh,” “lizzing,” and “mind grapes” have been especially successful, but tons of other words and one-liners have found varying levels of success, such as “I want to go to there” (which Fey borrowed from her daughter), “synergizing backward overflow” (a batty spoof of corporatese), “pass some eye water” (a manly evasion of “cry”), and “here comes the funcooker”—a Tracy Jordanism for mooning that ruined a potential mini-microwave name.
Still, 30 Rock would have to air for another 40 years to produce the volume of words that already surrounds the F-word—as evidenced by Jesse Sheidlower’s magnificent historical dictionary, appropriately called The F-word. In a nifty development, the latest 30 Rock-ism could be included in a future edition of Sheidlower’s book: The word is “whuck,” a new version of “WTF” that Liz Lemon blurted after seeing former boyfriend Floyd on television and—much to her chagrin—engaged. With the coinage of “whuck,” 30 Rock has contributed to one of the most lively dishes on the F-word menu: euphemisms, which include “eff,” “Fanny Adams,” “fark,” “feck,” “ferk,” “flak,” “flip,” “forget,” “fork,” “foul,” “frap,” “freak,” “frell,” “frick,” “frig,” “fsck,” “fuddle-duddle,” “fug,” “futz,” “muck,” “XXXX,” and a frakload of others.
“Whuck” actually debuted slightly before the episode “Floyd” (March 25, 2010), in an Esquire interview where Fey confessed, “I really love cursing a lot. But as I get older, I realize it’s a little unseemly for women of a certain age. But then once you pass sixty-five, you can hit it full tilt again and it’s charming.” Fey mentioned her real-life love of shouting “Nerds!” and hyped, “We have a new one we’re going to try out. You never know if it’s going to stick. It’s an expression of extreme shock: ‘Whuck?’”
After the episode debuted, “whuck” quickly stuck in the vocabulary of fans, who (as always) use such terms as a badge of fannish honor. Though plenty of uses wink or nod to 30 Rock or Fey, these tweets show that folks are already using the word for their own purposes, no self-conscious commentary needed:
“Dear Boston Celtics who are currently losing to the Bulls despite starting Allen, Pierce, Rondo and Garnett: whuck?” April 13, 2010, Dan Dickinson,
“Someone posted a Jello recipe that called for sour cream. Do I really need to tell everyone how wrong this is? Whuck!” April 11, 2010, senorpaco
“Today I've learned that there are still people out there that use AOL for email. Whuck?”
April 9, 2010, Catreva
“Best parent argument for why child should be able to skip Pre-K yet: ‘Well, she's a giant.’ Um, whuck?! So...will she *eat* the other kids!?” April 1, 2010, EisforErin
Like so many “new” words, “whuck” is not 100 percent brand-new. I found examples of “Fut the whuck” going back to at least 2000, so who knows how old that obscenity-avoiding spoonerism is. Still, as far as I can tell, “whuck” as a standalone version of WTF is a new thing, though it’s joining a grand tradition of silly TV-coined pseudo-obscenities designed to get past the censors while retaining a certain filthy flavor. Farscape and Battlestar Galactica gave us “frell” and “frak,” with the latter being immensely more successful. Mork and Mindy contributed the wonderful “shazbot,” which works so well in replacing the second-most popular swear word. And let’s not forget “bippy”—Laugh-in’s ass synonym that was immortalized in the catchphrase “You bet your sweet bippy!”
“Whuck” euphemizes a specific form of the F-word, and it has that in common with other variation-specific euphemisms. For example, a word highly associated with Samuel L. Jackson has many established substitutes, including “futhermucker,” “mammy-jammer,” “em-eff,” “MF,” “mother-father,” “mother-fouler,” “mother-grabber,” “mother-humper,” “mother-jumper,” “mother-lover,” “muh-fuh,” and even the ultra-innocent-sounding “motorcycle” and “motor-scooter.” Sadly, no one but me uses “Mister Hooper” in this way.
The F-word is also hidden in acronyms, like “fubar,” “snafu,” and the recently popular “milf.” A similar process—called the initialism—created “WTF,” the extremely popular parent word of “whuck,” which has been used since at least 1985, when folks on Usenet wrote, “I asked myself, ‘W.T.F.?’” and “WTF do I need a C primer if I am buying a compiler for the language?” WTF (whose W can mean more that “what,” as Ben Zimmer has noted) has been a hugely popular word, appearing all over the web and making the jump to books like WTF? College: How to Survive 101 of Campus’s Worst F*#king Situations and Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF. Nancy Friedman found that even craft beer has gotten in the act with Lagunitas’ Wilco Tango Foxtrot beer.
Whether “whuck” is the flavor of the month or something as enduring as “frick” or “fubar” remains to be seen. Either way, the f-word remains a word-coining machine capable of taking more forms than the smoke monster on Lost. If you don’t believe that, you must not be paying attention to some of the ratsmurfing, motherfarming F-bombs out there, which keep turning English into a true clusterfornication.
Illustration by Will Etling