Finook, fanook
Posted: 15 May 2008 05:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve been watching Soprano reruns and I noticed this word for a gay was used a lot. It’s not in the OED but this page has some info on it. The parallel between Italian finocchio (meaning fennel) and English faggot is interesting, both words having attached folk etymologies relating to the medieval burning of homosexuals.

Viewers of “The Sopranos” were abuzz last year with the revelation that gangster Vito was gay, or a fanook. (Vito’s business associates did not take this very well, as one might expect.) But where does the work fanook come from? Finocchio is the standard Italian for “gay,” but there are regional variations. Sicilian-Americans of Blanche’s acquaintance actually say something like finoic, but perhaps finook or fanook are also found among some speakers.

Finocchio also means “fennel,” and the relationship between homosexuality and fennel is puzzling. Several theories are found on the internet. One of the most common ideas is that during the Middle Ages, homosexuals were publicly burned for their sins and that fennel was part of this execution, though theories vary on why. The Spanish-language Wikipedia claims that fennel will make the process last longer, while other sites claim that fennel will reduce the odor of the burning body. Yet other websites and blogs claim that fennel stalks were the fuel for the fire.

The problem with the “Fennel on burning bodies” theory is that there is no historical evidence that this ever happened. Homosexuals (and many, many others) were burned by the Church, but so far as Blanche can determine, no contemporary source ever documented fennel playing any role in these executions. Fennel smells good, but it is hard to see how it would be powerful enough to cover the odor of burning bodies. And if you wanted fuel, why not use wood.

The article goes on to mention a far more plausible origin for finocchio.

First, finocchio for “homosexual” is only attested from about 1863. That raises an immediate problem for the heretic-burning theory. If finocchio really originates in the Middle Ages, then why is there no record till the 19th century?

“Much more likely, according to Dall’Orto is an etymology in which finocchio as “homosexual” derives from earlier uses of the word to mean “worthless, traitorous.” Finocchio is used in this way in verses apocryphally attributed to Dante:

E quei, ch’io non credeva esser finocchi, ma veri amici, e prossimi, giĆ  sono venuti contra me con lancie, e stocchi.

[And those, who I did not believe were traitors, but true friends and very close, now were come in front of me with lances and thrusts.]

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