Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Wed Jun 2 06:53:49 UTC 2004

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Baker, John
> Sent: Tuesday, June 01, 2004 9:15 AM
> Subject: Re: Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]
>         This is extremely interesting information.  It shows that
> phat(t) was in use over 50 years ago, and that the acronymic
> etymology is quite old.  What it does not tell us is whether
> phat(t) actually originated as an acronym (though of course the
> age of the acronymic etymology is evidence in that direction).
> After all, we know that pumpernickel does not derive from "C'est
> bon pour Nichol," even though that explanation accompanies the
> first use of "pumpernickel" in English.  Unless your cousin or
> one of her acquaintances actually coined "phatt," then her
> account is not going to be definitive.

The age of the acronymic explanation is irrelevant to the etymology. All it
shows is that this particular origin story is 50 years old. It tells us
nothing about the ultimate truth of the story. Such stories can survive for
extraordinary periods of time even if demonstrably proven to be untrue
(e.g., "Windy City"). Factoids and urban legends have lives independent of
whether or not they are true.

I would say the evidence is strongly against the acronymic origin of
"phat(t)." First, acronyming is simply not a productive pattern of
non-technical word formation. People just don't create ordinary words in
this fashion. Second, the "ph" for "f" spelling is a productive slang form.
Another example of this is "phreak." Third, "fat" has a centuries old
history of meaning lush or desirable.

Also for the record, the OED has a citation of "pumpernickel" dating back to
the mid-18th century, long before Napoleon or the "c'est bon pour Nichol"

--Dave Wilton
  dave at

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