Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke
March 26, 2008 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Where/when did the phrase "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" originate?

I've seen/heard it in a lot of different places, and associate it with the Church of the SubGenius. The guy in the cubicle next to mine says it originated with Bette Midler. A quick Google finds evidence that she said that 1979ish—but does anyone have an earlier Bette Midler reference for the phrase? Or, alternately, know whether this phrase gained currency anywhere else before that?
posted by limeonaire to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It definitely dates back to the 1940s or 1950s in Air Force jargon, though I don't have references.
posted by crapmatic at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2008

I recall it being attributed to Mick Jagger in the early seventies.
posted by Lucy2Times at 2:07 PM on March 26, 2008

A group called the Dictators had a record out by that name in 1981.

Peter Tauber used the phrase in a novel called The Last Best Hope in 1977. This is the earliest Google Books citation, as far as I can tell.

The earliest Google Groups mention is 1984.

As LanguageHat will certainly say momentarily, the phrase was certainly around before that, and there's really know way to know who said it first. Its current vogue may well come from the sub-Genius thing, but it was around long before them.

And, that theory about FUCK is completely bogus.
posted by beagle at 2:39 PM on March 26, 2008

The phrase was certainly around before that, and there's really no way to know who said it first.
posted by languagehat at 3:12 PM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: there's really no way to know who said it first.


Well, can we at least find the earliest citation? Or the earliest, widest known reference? I'll keep looking, too, and report back if I find anything definitive.
posted by limeonaire at 3:25 PM on March 26, 2008

There's a definition in A Dictionary of Soldier Talk that documents its use in Vietnam - you can see it quoted here.
posted by zepheria at 3:38 PM on March 26, 2008

"the best part of etymologies is that usually nobody really knows, so the best story wins!"

This phrase concerns the appropriate way to respond to stiff, stilted, yet still sexually attractive people.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 4:06 PM on March 26, 2008

My ex-boyfriend claims his father was the first. He remembers hearing it as a young child, which would have been early 70's.

I should be ashamed to admit that I didn't doubt it until now.
posted by KAS at 5:19 PM on March 26, 2008

I used to hang out with a bunch of guys in Missoula Montana who used that phrase quite often. This would have been 1977 or 1978. I thought they might have gotten it from Hunter S. Thompson, but that's conjecture on my part.
posted by Tube at 12:10 AM on March 27, 2008

There's confirmation here: http://www.aavw.org/served/gipubs_up_bottom_abstract02.html that the phrase was in circulation among soldiers in Vietnam, as suggested in the Dictionary of Soldier Talk that zepheria cited. The letter reproduced in that link is from 1972.

I always thought it went back further than that to Vonnegut or Heller or another author in the post-WWII timeframe in the US, but I can't confirm that.
posted by mikel at 5:34 AM on March 27, 2008

The earliest version I can find in Google Books is from 1973, in "G.R. Point" by David Berry.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:11 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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