This morning, I was interviewed by Andrew Peach on his BBC Radio Berkshire breakfast show on the provenance of the word fart. The QI Elves are doing a show in Reading and have published 10 facts about the town, asking for more obscure facts in the run up to their visit.
Apparently, the manuscript containing the oldest known song in the English language, Sumer Is Icumen In, was found in Reading Abbey. It contains the word fart.
The British Library has a good page about the manuscript, and I've pinched the picture:
|Manuscript of Sumer Is Icumen In, written around 1280 AD|
You can hear Sumer Is Icumen In sung here (link in case you can't see it):
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word fart is found in Sanskrit. People have been talking about farting - using a word similar to the modern English one - for a very long time. Etymologically, English probably got the word from the Anglo-Saxons, who started to arrive in Britain in earnest in the 5th century. English is basically a Germanic language with lots of embellishments from other languages for all sorts of historical reasons, and many of our basic words are from German (e.g., house, man, wife, and, land, hand ...).
The word fart is considered taboo by many. It is certainly a humorous word and a humorous concept. We have many euphemisms for it, including pass wind, let one off, and the Australian shoot a fairy.
But has fart itself always been a taboo word? There's an informative blog post on the subject from Strong Language which shows that it was used freely in situations as diverse as politics, poetry, and handbooks for children well into the 1700s. My favourite fart poem (yes, I do have one!) was written by the Cavalier poet Sir John Suckling in the 1600s, and goes as follows:
Love is the fart of every heart.
It pains a man when 'tis kept close
And others doth offend when 'tis let loose.
Do feel free to post your fart poetry and euphemisms below!