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40 Fantastic F-Words To Further Your Vocabulary

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One of the earliest ancestors of our humble letter F was a Phoenician letter, waw, which was assimilated into the early Greek alphabet more than 2500 years ago. It’s thought that the Phoenicians used their letter waw to represent an array of different sounds—including “u,” “v,” and “w”—and as a result, when they adopted it the ever-ingenious Greeks cleverly divided its use in two. On the one hand, the Greek letter upsilon (Y) took over the “u” and “v” sounds, while another letter, digamma (F), took over the “w” sound. Unfortunately, “w” (or rather, the labio-velar approximant, if you want to get technical) wasn’t the most widely-used sound in Ancient Greek, and digamma soon fell out of use. But it was salvaged from the linguistic scrapheap by the Romans, whose Latin letter V took over where upsilon left off, leaving F to represent a newly-emerging softer “v” sound—“f.”

The letter F has remained in use in the Roman alphabet ever since, and now accounts for on average around 2.5 percent of any page of written English—a figure boosted by its appearance in high-frequency words like for, if, from and of (the only English word in which F is pronounced “v”). You can also expect it to begin around 3 percent of all the words in a standard dictionary, including the 40 fantastic F-words listed here…

1. FACETIAE

A Latin word for “cleverness” or “skillfulness,” facetiae came to be used to refer to a collection of witty sayings in 16th century English. But things took a turn for the worse in Victorian slang, when facetiae came to be used as a euphemism for pornographic literature.

2. FAKEMENT

An 18th century word for a forged signature.

3. FALSILOQUENCE

Also known as fallaciloquence, falsiloquence is another word for lying, deceitful speech. Fatiloquence or fatiloquy is another word for soothsaying or predicting the future, while if you’re flexiloquent then you like to deliberately use ambiguous language to confuse people.

4. FAMELICOSE

Fames was the Latin word for “hunger,” and it’s from there that both famelic (an adjective meaning “pertaining to being hungry”) and famelicose (an 18th century word meaning “often very hungry”) are derived. 

5. FAMGRASP

Famble was a 16th century word for a hand (probably originally derived from a slang mispronunciation of “fumble”), and from there the English language has gained a number of equally handy fam– words: on its own, a fam was a gold ring in 18th century English; gloves were nicknamed fam-snatchers in 19th century slang; among Victorian criminals, to fam-squeeze someone was to throttle them with your bare hands; and to famgrasp is to shake hands in agreement.

6. FAMIGERATE

Derived from a Latin word meaning “to carry,” to famigerate is to report news from abroad.

7. FAMILY-DISTURBANCE

An old cowboy slang nickname for whisky.

8. FANFARONADE

As well as being another word for an ostentatious fanfare, fanfaronade is a 17th century word for arrogant, self-aggrandizing language. Likewise, a fanfaron is an arrogant boaster.

9. FANG-FAKER

Victorian slang for a dentist.

10. FEDIFRAGOUS

If someone is fedifragous then they’ve broken a promise or pledge, or they’re faithless or disloyal. A fedifraction, likewise, is a breach of an oath or a broken promise.

11. FELL-LURKING

A Shakespearism, used in Henry VI: Part 2 to mean “hanging around waiting to do something bad.”

12. FESCENNINE

Fescennia was a city in Etruria, an ancient region of northern and central Italy occupied by the Etruscan civilization more than 2,500 years ago. As the Roman Empire expanded outwards from Rome, it’s thought that a number of local Etruscan songs and poems were adopted into Roman culture in the process. These “Fescennine verses” as they were known were originally sung at harvest time or at large celebrations like weddings, but steadily they became less celebratory and ever more coarse and raucous. Ultimately, the adjective fescennine has ended up being used to describe anything obscene, lewd, or licentious.

13. FILLYLOO

A noisy uproar or exclamation.

14. FIRE-SCORDEL

An old English dialect word for someone who lounges around in front of the fire all day. A dog that does precisely that is a fire-spannel.

15. FIRKYTOODLE

To fondle or caress someone is to firkytoodle them. It probably derives from an earlier work, firk, meaning “to beat.”

16. FIRTLE

To fidget or move around distractedly is to firtle, as is to look busy despite doing very little.

17. FLAMBUGINOUS

Like flimflam, a flam is a fanciful or whimsical idea—and anything flambuginous is “flam-like.”

18. FLAMFOO

An old Scots dialect word for a gaudily over-dressed woman. Derives from flamfew, a 16th century word for anything useless or trifling.

19. FLAPDOODLER

Flapdoodle is a 19th century slang word for nonsense or humbug, and so a flapdoodler is someone who talks rubbish.

20. FLAUNT-TANT

Appropriately enough, a flaunt-tant is a showy array of highfalutin words or language.

21. FLAYBOTTOMIST

Because they caned unruly pupils’ behinds, schoolteachers were nicknamed flaybottomists in 18th century slang. Much more pleasant nicknames for teachers include haberdasher of pronouns and knight of grammar.

22. FLITTER-MOUSE

Alongside flickermouse and flinder-mouse, flitter-mouse is a Tudor-period word for a bat.

23. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

Floccus (literally “a wisp”), naucum (“a trifle”), nihil (“nothing”) and pilus (“a hair”) are all Latin words that can be essentially interpreted as meaning “very little,” or “nothing at all.” The nonsense word floccinaucinihilipilificationapparently coined by students studying Latin at England’s famous Eton College—brings all four of them together in one noun, meaning “the act of estimating something as worthless.” Often considered one of the longest words in the English language and one of the longest words in most dictionaries, floccinaucinihilipilification is related etymologically to the 16th century verb…

24. FLOCCIPEND

…which similarly means “to regard as insignificant.” 

25. FLUCKADRIFT

An old word from the far north of Scotland for a sudden haste or hurry.

26. FLUG-FISTED

An Irish dialect word for being left-handed. 

27. FLUMMATY-GUMPTION

An old Yorkshire dialect word for a state of unrest or agitation, or, by extension, a profuse sweating.

28. FLUNTER-DRAWER

Flunter is an old English dialect word for a loose fragment or piece of something, or for the untidy tail-end of something, like the unraveled end of a rope or piece of string. Derived from that, the flunter-drawer is that untidy, shambolic drawer in which you keep all your odds and ends.

29. FLURRY-GO-NIMBLE

An astoundingly appropriate-sounding old Cornish dialect word for diarrhea.

30. FOISTER

A pickpocket or cheat.

31. FOLLIFUL

Derived from folly, if you’re folliful then you like to play pranks.

32. FOLLOW-ME-LADS

In the 19th century, loose curls of hair or bonnet-ribbons that hung down a lady’s back or over her shoulders were nicknamed follow-me-lads. There’s an old myth that claims single girls would deliberately leave their hair trailing or their bonnets untied as a signal to any potential suitors that they were looking for love, but sadly it seems the word inspired the myth, not the other way around.

33. FORDRUNKEN

No surprises for guessing that if you’re fordrunken, then you’re drunk.

34. FORE-WITTER

Someone who knows something before it takes place. If you’re fat-witted, incidentally, then you’re foolish or slow-thinking.

35. FORFEX

A “humorously pedantic” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) Latin-origin word for a pair of scissors. Derived from that, if something is forficate then it’s shaped like a pair of scissors, while…

36. FORFICULATE

…to forficulate is to experience a creeping, tingling sensation. It derives from forficula, the Latin word for an earwig (which also derives from forfex), and so literally means “to have a sensation like an insect crawling over your body.”

37. FORTRAVAILED

A Scots dialect word meaning “exhausted,” or “wearied by work.”

38. FOX-FIRE

The glowing phosphorescence emitted by a dying ember is a fox-fire. Although it only survives in some local American dialects today, the word fox-fire dates back to mid-1400s.

39. FUTRAT

A 19th century word for a weasel or ferret—and so, metaphorically, a nickname for someone with a thin face.

40. FUZZLE

A Scots dialect word for just enough liquor to make someone feel slightly intoxicated.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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