One of the earliest known uses of the F-word found in manuscript from 16th-century plague lockdown

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Centuries before today's coronavirus pandemic -- almost 500 years ago actually -- people were isolating themselves in an attempt to escape the ravages of the plague.

In the final months of 1568, young Scottish merchant George Bannatyne was in lockdown, staying indoors to avoid an outbreak in Edinburgh.

With time on his hands, Bannatyne compiled hundreds of poems into a manuscript that now bears his name. The artifact also contains one of the earliest known uses of the F-word, according to a documentary that aired this week on BBC Scotland.

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The manuscript, which is in the collection of the National Library of Scotland, contains “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie” by poet William Dunbar. The work is described by The Scotsman newspaper as “the 16th century equivalent of a rap battle” between Dunbar and his fellow poet Walter Kennedie. The document is also noteworthy for containing one of the earliest known uses of the F-word.

Edinburgh Old Town from Princes Street', 1841. After Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848). (Adam & Charles Black, London, 1841). Artist Thomas Dobbie.

Edinburgh Old Town from Princes Street', 1841. After Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848). (Adam & Charles Black, London, 1841). Artist Thomas Dobbie. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

“It has long been known that the manuscript contains some strong swearwords that are now common in everyday language, although at the time, they were very much used in good-natured jest,” explained a spokesman for the National Library of Scotland, in a statement obtained by Fox News. “In particular the ‘Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie,’ a great slanging match between the poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedie, has been infamous for giving us the earliest known examples of these terms in written form.”

The Bannatyne Manuscript is one of the most important surviving sources of Older Scots poetry, according to the National Library of Scotland. The manuscript remained in the possession of Bannatyne's descendants’ possession until they gifted it to the Advocates Library, the National Library’s predecessor, in 1772, the spokesman said.

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The manuscript is featured in a BBC Scotland documentary series entitled “Scotland – Contains Strong Language” presented by singer and actress Cora Bissett.

The manuscript is featured in a BBC Scotland documentary series entitled “Scotland – Contains Strong Language” presented by singer and actress Cora Bissett. (John Maclaverty/BBC Scotland)

The BBC Scotland documentary is part of a series entitled “Scotland – Contains Strong Language," which is presented by Scottish singer and actress Cora Bissett.

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An earlier use of the F-word, however, has been reported. In 2015 a historian at Keele University in the U.K. found the curse word in an English court document that dates back to 1310.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers