A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of "fuckin' A"?

February 27, 2003

Dear Straight Dope:

What is the origin of the saying, "fuckin' A"? I know I first heard it from friends who are big fans of the movie Office Space, as am I. But the saying has seemed to take a new meaning. Is "fuckin' A" just something that the writer of Office Space made up?

The writer of Office Space could have made up the phrase, but he would have had to have been born in the 1920s or earlier, so I doubt it.

I can remember hearing the phrase for the first time when I entered college in 1962. It was the favorite expression of a jock who lived on my floor. When someone told him that a certain football team was the greatest, for example, he'd reply, "fuckin' A!" Even though I hadn't encountered the term in my sheltered high school career, I knew exactly what he meant from the context--"you're absolutely right." 

The phrase is first recorded in print in 1947, in Norman Mailer's World War II novel The Naked and the Dead. Mailer has a character say, "'You're fuggin ay,' Gallegher snorted."  The actress Tallulah Bankhead claimed she met Mailer at a party and said, "So, you're the guy who doesn't know how to spell fuck." (The story is sometimes told with Dorothy Parker as the speaker.) Mailer told an interviewer he never met Tallulah Bankhead, and in any case he knew how to spell four-letter words--the euphemism was used in order not to offend the sensibilities of readers in 1947. "Fuggin ay" suggests how hard it is to come by cites of one of the (formerly?) most offensive words in the English language--the next print citation of the phrase is from 1955, ". . . freaking-A loud sneeze," where it meant "goddamned."

The phrase has been an adverb, an adjective, an infix (an affix stuck into the middle of a root, e.g., "abso-fuckin'-A-lutely"), and an interjection in its lifetime. It has been used to mean "yes, indeed," "absolutely (correct)," "splendid," "very well," and "fucking" or "goddamned."

Having established that the term existed in WWII (and no doubt before), we now want to divine what the "A" means. @#%*!! I was hoping no one would ask that. Because that's the harder part to figure out.

In SDMB threads such as the following:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=91613

. . . we get suggestions as varied as "affirmative" and "asshole," neither of which is likely. Coincidentally, there has been a discussion on just this question over the past month or so on the American Dialect Society mailing list. There we get the following suggestions: "amen," "aye," "all right," "A-1," etc. And they're still arguing! Hey, if these eggheads don't know the answer, then who does, right?

Me, for one. "Fuckin' A" is short for "you bet your fucking ass." You want cites? P*ss on your cites. Sometimes at the Straight Dope we just know.

Resources:

Sheidlower, Jesse, The F Word (second edition, 1999)

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