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ETYMOLOGY: FROM PHONY TO FAWNEY TO FANNY PART 2

MAYBE THE words phony and fawney are related to the word “fanny”? With regard to fanny, though, be forewarned: This word has two distinct meanings, one English and the other American.

We on this side of the Atlantic think of fanny as another name for the posterior: “That kid deserves a little whack on the fanny.” We also have the term “fanny pack” to describe a belted pouch worn around the waist.

A selection of fanny packs. Image from SoJourner Bags.

By contrast, to the Brits the fanny is that portion of the female anatomy associated with our president’s professed grabbing proclivities. What’s more, the word fanny is considered offensive in Britain. The president’s boast is considered offensive worldwide, except perhaps among his apologists.

According to A Dictionary of the Underworld: British & American : Being the Vocabularies of Crooks, Criminals, Racketeers, Beggars and Tramps, Convicts, the Commercial Underworld, the Drug Traffic, by Eric Partridge, Bonanza, 1945, revised 1961, the word is associated with John Cleland’s erotic novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1749, aka Fanny Hill, her name a pun on the anglicized mons veneris, mound of Venus, perhaps another presidential target.

For those unfamiliar with the book (perhaps sneaked by others of us into junior high study hall), Cleland’s is considered the first pornography in the form of a novel. It’s also one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. (Have patience and a dictionary; both are useful.)

The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English), by Eric Partridge, Macmillian, 1961, most recently revised 2015, cites other fanny associations: First Aid Nursing Yeomanry; Fanny Blair, Cockney rhyming slang for hair; and Fanny Adams, English naval slang for tinned mutton.

This last one earns its own Partridge mention: The tinned mutton got its moniker from Fanny Adams, “c. 1812, murdered and whose body was cut into pieces and thrown into the river at Alton in Hampshire.” Fanny Adams is also a Brit euphemism for “f*** all.”

Which reminds me of a story concerning Hollywood film director Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame.

Michael Curtiz, born Manó Kaminer, 1886–1962, Hungarian-American film director. My favorite Curtiz flicks: British Agent, 1934; Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942; Casablanca, 1943; Mildred Pierce, 1945; White Christmas, 1954; We’re No Angels, 1955; and King Creole, 1958. Image from mubi.com.

Curtiz was Hungarian-born and never quite mastered the English language, much to the amusement of his Hollywood coworkers. Fed up with this, he once responded, “You people, you think I know f*** nothing. I tell you: I know f*** all!”

Had his command of English been more varied, he might have said “I know Fanny Adams!” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “ETYMOLOGY: FROM PHONY TO FAWNEY TO FANNY PART 2

  1. Bill Urban
    April 14, 2018

    In 2006 I met 100 year old Fran Flaherty. She had worked at the Autocar truck factory, in Ardmore, Pa. during World War Two, and was still attending the retiree’s luncheons. She told this story:
    When she got engaged to be married, her future in-laws were dismayed about her risqué name. So to smooth things out she agreed to be known as Fran, instead of her given name, Fanny.
    I’m somehow reminded too of WSC’s comment after meeting a nicely proportioned young woman: “Her provisions for motherhood were doubly manifest.”

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