"Obscene” words are funny things. Supposedly, a word is classified as obscene because of its meaning, what it represents. But very often the meaning seemingly has nothing to do with it. Frak is a case in point. Frak is a euphemism for that more familiar four-letter word that you can’t say on U. S. broadcast television without incurring hefty fines from the Federal Communications Commission. So screenwriters use words like freak, frap, frick, and frig as substitutes for the expletive. But frak goes a bit further and takes on all the valences of its more suspect progenitor. Despite meaning exactly the same thing as fuck, and despite being used in exactly the same manner and context as fuck, frak is okay, while fuck is not.

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The modern adjective fond refers to the quality of having affection, liking, or eagerness for someone or something. But this was not always so. In Middle English, fond could mean “insipid, flavorless” or “foolish, stupid.” The verb fonnen meant “to be foolish or misguided, to fool or make a fool of someone,” and the modern fond comes from the past participle of that verb, fonned.* The word fun comes from the same root, and the modern verb to fondle is derived from the verb fonnen, appearing in the eighteenth century.

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flop, flip-flop

In the midst of his 2004 presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry said of his vote on funding for the war in Iraq, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.” This may be one of the most bald-faced and succinct examples of flip-flopping in American politics, but it is hardly the first. Flip-floppers, or simply floppers, as they were originally known, have been so-called for over a century, but they’ve been around under other names for a lot longer.

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A fleabag is a run-down and shabby establishment, especially a hotel or other lodging place, and the word often used adjectivally, as in fleabag hotel. So it’s no mystery why fleas are associated with such places. But where does the bag come in?

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Video: The Value of Translators

A clever video that makes an economic and social point on the value of work translators do:

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flack, flak

Although they sound the same, their spellings differ by only one letter, they are often confused with one another, and they appeared in English at about the same time, flack and flak are very different words, with very different origins.

In the age department, flack edges out its competitor. The word was supposedly coined in Variety, the newspaper of the entertainment industry, but I’ve been unable to find early citations from this source. The earliest I’ve found is from the 25 February 1937 Oakland Tribune:

Whereupon Paramount elected to cash in on the publicity and the flack as Variety calls press agents, leaped to his typing machine.

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flak, flack

See flack, flak


Fantastic comes from the Latin fantasticus or phantasticus via Old French, which in turn is from the Greek φανταστικός (phantastikos). The Greek verb φαντάζειν (phantazein) means to make visible and φαντάζεσθαι (phantazesthai) means to imagine, to have visions. Words like fantasy, phantasm, and fancy come from the same root.

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No, not the famous nineteenth-century writer. This is the slang term, as in the exclamation what the dickens. Dickens is a euphemism for devil. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the 1599 play King Edward IV, Part 1, commonly attributed to Thomas Heywood:

What the dickens is loue that makes ye prate to me so fondly.

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Deer can be traced back to the Old English word deor, but the word’s use in Old English was somewhat different than deer’s is today. To the Anglo-Saxons, a deor was not necessarily the gentle, forest creature signified by the modern deer, but the word could be used for any undomesticated, four-legged animal, including fabulous beasts of legend. The word carried a connotation of wildness and ferocity, not something we today associate with Bambi. Deer is a cognate (sister word) of the modern German Tier, “animal.”

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