Sunday, January 21, 2007


developed from the Latin word fetus. At first, it referred to any young animal, including unicorns and seals. Eventually, it was applied exclusively to the offspring of a deer. These days, when someone describes material as fawn-colored, the same basic shade of light brown pops into everyone’s mind. And the swelling at the end of an axe helve, designed to give a better grip, is called a fawn foot because of its shape.

The verb to fawn probably comes from a different source entirely, an obsolete word meaning to rejoice. The word was applied to the behavior of dogs when they greet their master. There is usually frantic cavorting, whining, and vigorous wags of the tail. Later, it was applied to humans, but by then it had taken on a pejorative cast. The implication was that the fawning person was servile, abject, cringing, desperate for favor.

Totally unconnected is the strange word fawney, a finger ring. In 18th century England, a popular con game was known as the fawney-rig. The perpetrator would pretend to find a ring (doctored to look like gold, but actually brass), and sell it to some gullible person at a price ridiculously low for gold, but enormously inflated for brass.

SIDEBAR: Read about the white-tailed deer

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