"Au fait"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Sep 3 04:52:47 UTC 2007

>The semantic development was: "au fait" socially proper; genteel"
>(in Louisiana French!) to "white person."

As I've said before, I do not know that "au fait" = "socially
proper"/"genteel" ever occurred in any form of French whatsoever. Of
course I could be off base (again): anybody got an example with this
sense in any form of French?

It is my impression that "au fait" in this sense arose in English
only, probably [at least mostly] as an error for "comme il faut".

>Cf. Duke Ellington's comment (_Music Is My Mistress_, 1973, p. 12):
>"When I first went to Europe on the _Olympic_ in 1933, I felt so au
>fait with all that silverware on the table."

There are numerous comparable examples, not by any means racially
restricted AFAIK.

I presented several examples of "au fait" in this sense on this list
and in CoE a while back, and several with spellings "ofay", "oh fay",
etc. are available.

>The poem ... is interesting, but I'd like to see what else turns up
>before signing on to the poem's being significant for the history of "ofay."

I am not asserting the poem is significant! Only interesting ...
interesting enough to look into further (databases permitting).

>.... Btw, HDAS has 1925 as the first attestation of "ofay" and the
>poem is from 1897.

OED has "ofay" from 1898, last I knew.

-- Doug Wilson

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