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What the fuck does “what the fuck?” mean?


“Their king in the pointy hat what sits on his throne in Rome.”

It’s not quite a sentence, it’s part inquiry, part interjection. But what is the question “what the fuck?” asking?

Breaking it down into its three component words, we’ve got “what” “the” and “fuck”. We easily understand that “what” denotes a request for information, and “the” designates the following word as the focus of our query. The most ambiguous word is “fuck” because we know our favorite curse to be a tender hunk of clay, moldable to fit  a multitude of needs and situations.

But it’s not the case that “fuck” is our problem word. As many definitions as “fuck” takes on for us young and facetious people, it’s remarkable how intuitively we pick up on its intending meaning no matter how it’s used. Clearly in “what the fuck”, “fuck” is an indication of outrage and hostility. It doesn’t act as a verb, refer to carnality, or behave as an intensifying adjective. “What the fuck?” is an angry way to say “why?”.

So if “fuck”s not the problem, what is? “What” is. You can’t just ask, “what” the fuck. That’s not a complete thought. If you ask “why the fuck?” or “how the fuck?”, you see you’re only beginning a sentence. “What the fuck” is a front-loaded abbreviation of a longer sentence of the template “what the fuck [is your problem]?” or something similar. “What” slips by us because it can stand in for “how” or “why” and we don’t notice that it demands you finish the sentence. So “what the fuck?” is an inquisitive interjection and not a complete sentence, you need to fill in the [is your problem?/is going on?/are you doing?] end of the sentence.

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Posted February 5, 2010 by Wada in Uncategorized

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