Curious Word Origins

~ F ~

fan - admirer, supporter, devotee
From the late 19th century American abbreviation of the stronger word fanatic. Curiously enough, there was a British abbreviation phann or fann as early as the 17th century, but the modern word came from importation, not from the native version which had died out 150 years earlier.
fanatic - enthusiastic in the extreme
Properly applied, this word should only be used in connection with religion. It is derived from the Latin fanum, a temple, and related to people who, in Roman days, attended temples and there, falling into strange fits or sťances as they would be termed today, were said to be able to see the past and foretell the future.
fascist - (person) opposed to democratic and liberal principles
Fascism was an Italian political movement (1922-43) characterised by authoritarian and nationalistic attitudes. The Fascists took their name from their emblem, the fasces, a bound-up bundle of rods with the blade of an axe protruding. This was the symbol of the magistrates of ancient Rome, denoting their powers of punishment. Fascist with a small f is used of totalitarian, inhumane, ruthless and disreputable political attitudes and practices.
fiasco - a complete and humiliating failure
The word comes from Venice. That city as long been famed for its glass, and the utmost care was taken by its makers to ensure that their ware was perfect. If any flaw developed in the delicate work, it was the practice of the workmen, in order to avoid waste, to turn the article into a common flask - a fiasco. Hence the Venetian glass-makers regarded a fiasco as something which had failed to come up to their standard.
fleshpots - bodily pleasures or places where they are gratified
Literally, pots in which flesh (meat) was boiled to eat. The origin is biblical: when the Israelites were in the wilderness they complained 'Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and when we did eat bread to the full' (Exodus, 16:3). In later use the word meant sinful or enviable luxury. Its current use is facetious.
freelance - self-employed (person)
Coined, originally as two words, by Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe (1819) to describe a mercenary soldier of the Middle Ages: lance meant the same as lancer and free meant to fight for any person who would pay him. In general use the term has never had any military connotations.
frogmarch - make (one) walk or march as if one were a prisoner
This sense is milder than the original, which has to do with the resemblance between a frog and a refractory or drunken prisoner being carried bodily, face downwards, by four captors, two holding him up by the arms and two by the legs.

~ G ~

Gadarene - mindlessly headlong (usually in the company of others)
The first three Gospels (see for example Mark, 5: 1-13) have the story of a miracle performed by Jesus in the country of the Gadarenes. He encountered a man possessed by demons and cast them out, whereupon they entered the bodies of about 2,000 swine feeding close by. The swine ran into the sea and were drowned.
...In modern use the adjective is usually coupled with such nouns as stampede, rush and panic, and is now sometimes spelt with a small g.
giddy - having a whirling, swimming or dizziness in the head
This word's meaning has softened greatly since it first appeared in Old English as gydig. Then it meant 'insane' or 'possessed'. The root of giddy is, in fact, the same prehistoric Germanic root that gave us the English word
god, and to be giddy was originally 'to be possessed by a god'. By the 16th century, however, it had acquired its modern sense, along with the figurative one of being mentally intoxicated by excitement or emotion.
gingerly - daintily, fastidiously, cautiously
Thought to come from a Latin root meaning 'well-born'. The Latin word was genitus, which is closely connected to other words associated with birth and reproduction, such as genital, congenital and progenitor. Strictly, genitus meant merely 'born' or 'begotten' but it seems to have implied a person who was born into a noble or wealthy family. After about 1000 years, this turned into the Old French gensor, meaning delicate or dainty (from gent, noble). The modern sense of moving carefully so as not to injure oneself, cause damage or make a noise, first appeared about 1600.
gobbledegook - official jargon; pretentious verbiage, especially that used by people in authority
The invention of the word has been confidently attributed to Maury Maverick, a distinguished American lawyer and politician, in reference to the US civil service. It is a whimsical reproduction of the sound made by a turkey and is a nonsense word, like much of what it signifies.
gossamer - the slender cobweb-like threads floating in the air in calm weather, produced by small spiders
This comes directly from 'goose-summer' (gossomer, in Middle English), an unusually warm period or
Indian summer occurring in mid-November. This is the time of year when spiders are wont to spread their delicate webs across lawns and bushes and when St Martin's Day is traditionally celebrated with a goose dinner.
By the beginning of the 14th century gossamer came to be applied to filmy spiders webs and similar material, such as fine gauze. The rationale for the transference of meaning is unclear. Most probably it was simply that the webs were most often seen during goose-summer, but an association with the fuzzy down plucked from geese and the delicate webs drifting through the autumn air may also have played a part.
groggy - dizzy, unsteady, shaky
Until 1971 the officers and men of the Royal Navy were entitled to a daily ration of rum. In 1740 Admiral Vernon, dubbed 'Old Grog' because of the grogram (coarse cloth of silk and mohair) cloak he always wore, started to issue rum diluted with water which the sailors called grog after him. Men who could not take their drink or perhaps drank others' rations as well as their own would end up feeling groggy or drunk. Today the term could be used to describe someone suffering the after-effects of a party the night before but is more likely to be used of someone who is generally unwell.
grotesque - distorted, irregular, extravagant or fantastic in appearance
Surprisingly, this word is related to
grotto, it is in fact grotto with the suffix esque, which means 'resembling or having the characteristics of'. When one thinks of a grotto an image of a small picturesque cave comes to mind, however, the word has a less idyllic root, the Latin crypta, or vault, which also gave us crypt. The "grottoes" of Ancient Rome were vaults beneath buildings, and when these vaults were later excavated in the Middle Ages, the walls were discovered to be painted with bizarre and elaborate scenes. Combining distorted human forms with floral patterns, this strange style of art was later copied by 16th century Italian painters, who called it pittura grottesca - 'grottolike painting'. By the 17th century, the term had entered English as grotesque, with its modern meaning. While the original connotation of the word was simply 'very unusual', the word has since taken on a sense of 'unpleasant or disgusting'.
<< Previous Page

Main Index

Next Page >>

Home ~ The Stories ~ Diversions ~ Links ~ Contact