Funny story: in a previous post written under the influence of jetlag, I wrote “eff” instead of “egg.” Before I had a chance to correct it, reader John Stewart noted that effing–euphemism for fucking–is itself a Britishism.
This surprised me: I have gotten used to effing in these parts and had no sense of a transatlantic origin. But John is correct. The OED’s examples are all British, starting with this from Robert Graves’ 1929 “Goodbye to All That”: “He was charged with..using obscene language to the bandmaster; the bandmaster, who was squeamish, reported it as: ‘Sir, he called me a double effing c—.'”
I have a sense that effing’s U.S. popularity stemmed in large part from radio and later TV personalities seeking to avoid Federal Communication Commission strictures on foul language. A 2004 New York Times piece about shock jock Gregg “Opie” Hughes noted that even after moving to satellite radio (where the FCC has no sway), “Mr. Hughes often carefully and sometimes almost primly avoided expletives, using euphemisms like ‘freakin’ ‘ or ‘effing’ even though he was free to spew the foulest language they could come up with.”
A Google Ngram shows a 100 percent increase in U.S. usage of effing between 1998 and 2008
British usage is still about 50 percent more common, according to Google Ngram, but at this point, effing has passed its sell-by date on both sides of the Atlantic, with an unappealing naughty little child quality. Take a recent headline in Jezebel (which has used effing an astonishing 71 times in its history): “What’s the Big Effing Deal About Having a Second Baby?”
Nor does British actress Emily Blunt’s quote about her marriage to John Krasinski augur great things for the union: “All I can say is that it’s an effing blast.”