A word playing host to a truly abundant array of meanings. Apart from the conventional definitions enumerated by the ever-diligent Webster 1913, there is a slang usage which is very pervasive in (at least) Australia and New Zealand.

It refers to sexual intercourse at its most selfish, base, physical and crass. As such, it can be used interchangeably with fuck in many contexts, but increasingly as fuck becomes more common, root seems to carry an even greater connotation of crudeness, and even contempt. It is at its most frequent in "bloke" conversation, as the testosterone-addled participants attempt to impress each other with their flippancy.

Like we needed another synonym for 'fuck' ...

As a personal aside, I really dislike this term, and I don't use it myself. It makes my lip curl just a little whenever I hear someone else use it in conversation. I guess I have too much respect for sex to denigrate it in this way. But, that doesn't mean I shouldn't root for the ages. So we now return you to your regularly scheduled node.

How to use it

the noun

The noun form is most commonly used with the indefinite article; "a root". This is very similar to the expression "a fuck", as it refers to a single instance of coitus. As in these examples:

  • I could really use a root right about now.
  • Nice shoes. Want a root?
  • So, did you get a root at that party on Friday?
  • She was just after a quick root, nothing serious.
Some other variations on the theme:
  • Yeah, he was a good kisser, but the root was shit. He was too pissed to get it up.
  • I heard he once got five roots in one week!

the verb

The verb form is typically transitive, although intransitive forms do occasionally make an appearance.

  • Did you see that chick? I'd root her for sure!
  • I wouldn't root him if he was the last guy on the planet.
  • Do you think she'd root me if I got her trashed?
  • I haven't been rooted properly in weeks.
  • He's so desperate, he'll root anything with a pulse.

Unlike the noun, the verb is not strictly limited to sexual meanings. There is a more general meaning which refers to taking advantage of someone, to their detriment. As in:

  • Last time I played Quake against Jim, he totally rooted me.
  • Two grand for that piece of shit? You got rooted, dude.

the adjective

Used as an adjective, rooted usually drops the sexual denotation, and refers more to the described entity being in a generally negative situation, or sometimes, a state of dysfunction, depletion or exhaustion. These uses can be seen as analogous to "screwed", "stuffed", "buggered" -- and note that those words also have alternate sexual meanings! As demonstrated below:

  • You left the roast in the oven too long, now the dinner's rooted!
  • This club is rooted; I haven't heard music this bad since 1992.
  • Better go home and get some rest, after a day like that you must be totally rooted.

some known extended forms

  • to root around is to be very promiscuous.
  • a root rat is a person who habitually roots around.


Sadly, information on the origin of this repugnant bit of language is scarce. However, it seems to me that the most likely path is from the conventional meanings of "root" which relate to digging or delving. If you consider the phrases "rooting around in the closet for some old photos", or "they attempted to root out the traitor", both involve going inside something, with a clear purpose. I think that's a narrow enough semantic gap for slang to cross with ease. Not that I'm claiming to be an expert or know what I'm talking about by any means.

There is also the existence of the word rut, which is most often used to talk about the mating habits of mammals which have some kind of recurrent mating season. "rut" derives from Late Latin rugire, "to roar", and was still translated as "to roar" as recently as Middle English rutte. At some point (because animals in heat presumably do a lot of roaring) the meaning shifted to describe the fact of being in heat itself. Since the only pronunciational difference between rut and root is a rather similar vowel sound, and the meaning of rut is already specifically sexual, it's not hard to imagine a connection.

Finally, there is a (admittedly somewhat flimsy) piece of evidence that hints at this particular use of "root" being alive and well in 16th century England. In Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, scene I, we find the following:


Leave your prabbles, 'oman. What is the focative case, William?
O,--vocativo, O.
Remember, William; focative is caret.
And that's a good root.

Now, while it's difficult to be certain since he's not here to ask, it seems that Uncle Billy is making a few double entendres here. This passage consists of Sir Hugh Evans ignorantly drilling the young William Page on his Latin lessons, while Mistress Quickly makes inane comments in the background. caret is Latin for "is missing", or "is wanting", which Mistress Quickly has mistaken for "carrot", the root vegetable. Sir Hugh has mispronounced the vocative case "focative", which may well be intended as a pun on "fuck", and Mistress Quickly's comment "that's a good root" a not-so-veiled reference to it. Given Shakespeare's penchant for combining vulgar humour with clever word games, this does not seem at all implausible.

Thanks to La petite mort, ToasterLeavings and Taliesin's Muse for all the good roots ... um, I mean, uses of "root". Yeah. That's it.