Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

Tue Jun 1 22:51:33 UTC 2004

        I would have thought that we've seen enough etymythologies on this list, without any special need to seek them out, but, since you ask, I'll cite some.  Perhaps it's not quite a plethora, but here are a few examples of mostly inaccurate etymologies from  These include both standard and slang terms.

        A key seems to be that the subject term is perceived as nonstandard, though the perception is often mistaken.  No one is surprised that a core English word like "father," say, is derived from Old English "faeder," meaning "father."  Folk etymologies emerge for slang words like "cop" (not really from "constable on patrol"), pseudo-slang like "fuck," and standard words that have somehow come under a cloud, like "picnic."

        The coiner of a term does, of course, know its derivation.  At some point, the term's users lose the connection with the origin.  That may happen relatively quickly, or, as with your "bear" example, the derivation may linger because a large number of people connect the term to its origin.  Regardless of the amount of time taken, though, if the term lasts then at some point most of its users will not know its origin.  Nevertheless, they may believe that they do know the origin.

        I can't speak for Jonathan or Arnold (who are, in any case, eminently capable of speaking for themselves), but I don't think that your suggested origin is empty of content.  I think it's evidence, interesting in its own right, and there is even some possibility that it may be accurate.  (It's certainly more plausible than some of the suggested origins of other terms that have been seriously put forth on this list.)  But the mere fact that someone told your cousin that this was the origin of "phatt" is far from conclusive.

John Baker

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