Lexicon Valley

The Alliterative Appeal of the “Flying F–k”

flying fuck illo.

Sofya Levina

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing. 

What exactly is a flying fuck? And why does this fuck fly? Flying fuck enjoys many fun literal interpretations. Gadget-heads might like the remote-controlled helicopter featured above, craftier folk this flying fuck lovingly fashioned from “wire hate,” both as Nancy Friedman shared with me.

Urban Dictionary offers a number of humorous entries for flying fuck, too, including a rare, African “flightless bird” and a rather acrobatic sex act. Speaking of birds, some do hook up midflight (at least as part of courtship)—not unlike the more adventurous frequent fliers among us. Creativity (and Mother Nature) aside, the earliest record of flying fuck is, in fact, a literal one. But let’s save the best for last.

There are actually two main species, if you will, of flying fucksto not give a flying fuck and to go take a flying fuck. First, and more commonly, we can say we don’t give a flying fuck. In this case, we really don’t care. If the American Dialect Society’s recent vote for the 2015 Word of the Year is any measureas Nancy Friedman recently covered herezero fucks given is a notable synonym for not giving a flying fuck today. In The F-Word, Jesse Sheidlower first cites this flying fuck in James Jones’ From Here to Eternity. The novel was published in 1951 but was set in 1941 Hawaii. After reading his poem “The Re-enlistment Blues,” solider Slade says: “I don’t give a flyin’ fuck about what anybody says.” (At the time, and some may argue still today, Jones’ book was notorious for its strong language. It was also controversial—and in parts censored—for its depiction of homosexuality. The film adaptation, meanwhile, lives on with its iconic beach scene.) This flying fuck we can understand as the “smallest or least amount,” one noun sense of a fuck. Certainly flying functions as an intensifier, but why flying? Is it just for sonic effect? Flying fuck indeed has a great alliterative air to it. Or, as Joel Berson wonders on the ADS’s discussion list, might this flying signify “fleeting” or “flitting”? Could a flying fuck be the most transient and ephemeral of fucks, the fruit fly of fucks?

Second, we can also tell someone to go take a flying fuck. Here, we are intensively telling someone to get lost. Fuck off or go to hell also serve this sentiment well. This construction often appears in a yet more colorful form: to go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.

flying fuck toy.


Many know this rolling doughnut elaboration thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s 1976 Slapstick¹, though the expression well predates the novel. (Mr. Vonnegut also graced our sweary pages in my piece on pissant last August.) While campaigning for the presidency on a utopian platform to end loneliness by randomly creating extended families, protagonist Dr. Swain advises people to issue these choice words if they hate their new, assigned kin: Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?

I suppose we all dream of letting fly these words at our given relatives every now and again. Predating Vonnegut’s usage, The F-Word cites a rolling doughnut iteration in Robert Pirosh’s 1949 war drama, Battleground:  “Tell him to take a flyin’ leap at a rollin’ doughnut.” And “You can take a flying one at a rolling one” appears a few years earlier from a work by a fighter pilot. These examples make me wonder if a rolling doughnut was ever military slang for some sort of vehicular maneuver—unless I’m just missing the obvious here.

Pirosh’s “flyin’ leap” is additionally instructive, as it points to the history of the construction. The F-Word finds “take a flyin’ fling at the moon” in a 1926 passage that actually refers back to 1918. Similar “jumps” and “moons” appear until 1938, when John O’Hara wrote in a letter: “I say go take a flying fuck at a galloping r–ster.” Rooster, a cock, is intended, the self-censorship rather tongue-in-cheek. While we may not have explicit record of fuck for the construction until 1938, the early flings and jumps certainly seem to have originally euphemized the F-word. (It’s interesting, I should note, that Vonnegut draws on both the doughnut and moon elaborations, but we should remember both examples appear in the context of World War II, which Vonnegut fought in.)

Burchard Galleries

The dismissive imperative of go take a flying fuck has motion, speed, direction—and whimsy. Its early, fanciful references to the far-off moon suggest the flying fuckster should get impossibly lost. And whatever they may be, a rolling doughnut and galloping rooster, among other elaborations, certainly sound like taking a flying fuck at them is quite the feat.

Which brings us to “New Feats of Horsemanship.” Step aside, galloping rooster. Yes, the earliest record of flying fuck is not concerned with birds but with horses. Around 1800, apparently²British caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson produced a bawdy broadside:

His poem reads:

Well mounted on a mettled steed
Famed for his strength as well as speed
Corinna and her favorite buck
Are pleas’d to have a flying f–k.
While o’er the downs the courser strains,
With fiery eyes and loosened reins,
Around his neck her arms she flings,
Behind her buttocks move like springs.
While Jack keeps time to every motion,
And pours in love’s delicious potion.

Talk about a bumpy flight. Here, flying clearly refers to the striding motion and fuck to that other striding motion. Rowlandson’s one-off flying fuck is not the modern usage, of course. As the record well suggests, to give a flying fuck or to go take a flying fuck developed separately, perhaps with the latter influencing the former. However it earned its wings, fuck certainly knows how to fly.

¹These lines also occur earlier, though less prominently, in Vonnegut’s 1969 Slaughterhouse Five, also set in World War II.

²According to Mark Forsyth and Mark Morton. The Online Etymology Dictionary also cites this poem, though does not attribute it to Rowlandson. Sheidlower cites the first quatrain in Henry Cary’s Slang of Venery and Its Analogues, antedating 1850. Jonathan Lighter, whose Historical Dictionary of American Slang has informed The F-Word, also notes an 18th-century graffito playing with amorous flying on the ADS discussion list.