"fiend": in anyone's active vocab?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 9 22:42:48 UTC 2005

On 11/8/05, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
> Subject: "fiend": in anyone's active vocab?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Now that I've gotten done with the hard work of voting
> for Barry for Beep, I'd like to visit another NY topic:
> tabloid headlines.
> A news story that has been in the NY tabs for the last week
> concerns a man who dressed up as a firefighter, started a fire
> as a distraction, and sexually assaulted a woman. Both
> tabloids have used the word "fiend" in front-page descriptions
> the man; the N.Y. Post, for example, has had "HUNTED: Fire
> Fiend Stalked his Sex Victim", "Is This Fire Sex Fiend?", and
> "FIEND'S LAIR", while the N.Y. Daily News has had "Cops
> Zeroing in on Perv Fiend".
> I have to say, the word _fiend_ is not really in my active
> vocabulary. When I hear or see it, I get an image of a man
> twisting the ends of his moustaches--they are plural, and are
> spelled with -ou---while wearing an opera cape and cackling
> demonically. It's up there with "evildoer" as a pejorative I
> simply can't take seriously. This is not, of course, to
> minimize the horrific nature of the alleged attack, just to
> question the word used of the alleged attacker.
> I find _sex fiend_ more acceptable, and I do note that in the
> articles themselves, both tabs use this form: the News had
> "Cops have a suspect - and a good sketch - of the Halloween
> sex fiend who dressed up as a firefighter, stalked his victim
> and then attacked her...", and the Post "A Chelsea woman was
> duped by the sickest of sex fiends....", inter alia. But the
> cover had bare _fiend_, and not always in the alliterative
> _fire fiend_.
> Anyone else? I assume the point of this is to arouse passion
> and anger, but it generates the opposite reaction in me. I
> note that my wife, who pretty much shares my age and cultural
> background, does _not_ agree with me; she thinks the word is
> still usable.
> Jesse Sheidlower


When I was a teen-ager in the '50's, "sex fiend" was already pretty much a
joking term used among the guys, being assigned to whoever was bragging the
most about the extent to which he was supposedly getting over. And I vaguely
remember a title that was "[Something] The Foul Fiend," also from those
days. That's about it for me WRT active use.

-Wilson Gray

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