Lexicon Valley

Australian National Dictionary Reports Australia Invented an … Interesting … Curse Word

An expanded entry for fuckwit is coming to an Australian National Dictionary near you.

Photo illustration by Hugh Pinney/Getty Images

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


The recent launch of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary gave me a chance to indulge in my longtime hobby of looking up the swear words. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favorite homegrown colorful language in a future post, but I want to start with an entry that gives me the kind of pride that others expended on the Olympic Games last month.


The entry for fuckwit (p. 647) includes the note:

Used elsewhere but recorded earliest in Australia

That’s right. Australia is the home of the fuckwit. The earliest citation in the AND and the Oxford English Dictionary is from Alex Buzo’s 1970 play The Front Room Boys. The earliest non-Australian citation in the OED is from a 1992 article in Making Music magazine from America.


The second edition of the AND expands the citations for fuckwit, makes a clearer distinction between nominal and adjectival use, and (most importantly) adds an earlier citation for fuckwitted. Here are the entries, along with the earliest few citations:

A. N. A fool, an idiot

1969 A. Buzo Front Room Boys (1970) 89 ooh, temper! Well, ta-ta for now, fuckwit.
1970 D. Williamson Coming of Stork (1974) 5 ‘I’m a trance marketing executive…’ ‘You’re a fuckwit’
1977 Southerly i. 48 I object to trendy words like fuckwit and avoid it even in Scrabble.
1980 F. Moorhouse Days of Wine & Rage 79 The present government consists of the finest set of fuckwits seen since federation.

B. adj. Stupid, foolish, idiotic


1979 Meanjin 464 It sounded like a load of fuckwit shit to me
1993 Picture (Sydney) 27 Oct. 25/5 An interesting Seppo has taught his pet… to roll over, play dead, walk up a ramp, and stand on a  barrel. Big fucking deal, you say, any fuckwit dog can do that.


Derivative: fuckwitted adj.

1972 J. Hibberd Stretch of Imagination (1973) 20 you two-timing, fuck-witted mongrel of a slut.
1973 D. Williamson Coming of Stork (1974) 152 That fuckwitted agent of yours is really driving me right off my brain.

That Seppo, in case you’re wondering, is a glorious example of Australian rhyming slang; Seppo > Septic Tank > Yank.


Another change that the AND has made to the entry is to label fuckwit as derogatory. These labels were omitted from the first edition based on the very Australian logic that:


There is a danger that using labels to indicate register can be overinterpretative and over-restrictive. This seems particularly true of Australian English, which allows easy movement between formal and informal usage. It should be clear from the citations if a word belongs mainly in colloquial use or to the slang of a particular group, and equally clear if it is for some reason taboo in some contexts. Labels like coarse, colloq., derog., slang, and vulgar, which tend unnecessarily to categorize, have therefore been omitted.

The labels Offens. and Derog. have been added to entries in the second edition of the AND in case you’re too much of a fuckwit to tell if something is offensive.