[off-list] Re: [ADS-L] "fanny", n.4

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Dec 19 04:41:27 UTC 2012

On 12/15/2012 10:38 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> ....
> Simply the fact that it's a feminine pet name.
> Cf. masculine "Roger" and "Dick."

Not entirely unbelievable, but not the only possibility, surely. Maybe
it's basically a diminutive of "fan", something perceived as fan-shaped,


Granted that there was "fan" = "female pudendum" (UK), which never
caught on much in the US ... which is why "park your fanny" could appear
in that 1922 novel, and "fanny packs" could be marketed later ... (makes
me wonder whether this "fanny" was very usual even in the UK: didn't
novels and packs freely cross the Atlantic?) ....

Is it typically supposed that the US "fanny" = "arse"/"buttocks"
[relatively innocuous] is simply the earlier word with some
semantic/anatomical shift? Maybe not impossible, but I think one could
also speculate that the two "fanny"s are etymologically unrelated.

In particular, I speculate (only speculate!) that this US "fanny" <
"Aunt Fanny" which is an arbitrary expression except that it begins with
/&/, like "ass" for which it is euphemistic (cf. the interjection "my
Aunt Fanny!" presumably for "my ass!").

Other candidate euphemisms on the same basis: (1) "can" (likewise
relatively innocuous for "arse"/"buttocks") < "ashcan"; (2)
"smart-aleck" for "smart-ass" (maybe this was a different "ass", but
that wouldn't necessarily prevent such euphemism).

I don't know whether this sort of speculation has been presented previously.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list