or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, January 31, 2009


What was it I said yesterday about what I was going to post today? Ignore it. I'm a liar. I'll get to it tomorrow. This is too good to leave for another minute.

Dana Stevens, the movie reviewer for Slate, has seen a lot more Anne Hathaway movies than I have. Here's a sentence:

I'd love to see her take on something, anything, completely outside the Hathaway canon: a schlumpily dressed, unprincesslike, unfeisty schmo.

Haven't you ever wondered where "feisty" came from? It sounds like it must be from "feist" plus the usual adjectival ending "-y", but is "feist" even a word? And if it is, what can it mean?

Well, "feist" is a Southernism--that is to say, a term used in the southern United States--for a scrappy, belligerent little dog. That word never spread to the rest of North America, but, for some reason, "feisty" did.

And where did "feist" come from? You don't have to believe me, though it's in all the dictionaries, but it's actually related to "fart". Yeah, I know.

Middle English had a very German-looking verb, "fisten", likely pronounced as if it were spelled "feisten", which meant "to fart". This stemmed from Old English "fisting", pronounced "feisting" (or something like it), which was a noun meaning "farting". This ultimately came from the Indo-European "pezd-", which meant, yes, "to fart".

"Feist" is an abbreviation of the expression "fisting dog", with that "-i-" pronounced long as if it were "-ie-". I am not sure why a farting dog might be expected to be particularly high-strung or ill-tempered, but I didn't make up the expression, I'm just reporting it.

If you have a very good memory you may recall that in October of 2007 I wrote about the partridge, whose name more or less literally means "farter" (from French "perdrix", which, with what appears to be that feminine "-drix" ending you will have seen the likes of in "aviatrix", we may translate as "fartress"). The French comes intact from Indo-European "perd-", which means that, as bizarre as it may seem, IE had not one but two verbs for farting.

In that October posting I said that "petard" was derived from "perd-", but it seems instead that it came from "pezd-". I don't know how I made that mistake, but I'm correcting it here.


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