Saturday, 7 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies F

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter F and fat. The word is a contraction, a shortened form of Old English faettian 'to stuff, cram with', itself from the Proto-Germanic verb faitjan 'to fatten'. Taking it back further we come to Proto-Indo-European poid 'to abound in water, milk, fat, etc.', and thus the earliest references to 'fat' were far from derogatory.

Stout, used in the sense of 'overweight', is unrecorded prior to 1804. It first came to England around 1300 when it was used to mean 'proud, valiant, strong' and is derived from Old French estout, earlier Middle Low German stolt 'stately proud', and back further to Proto-Indo-European stel 'to put, stand'. We still use the phrase 'he is a stout fellow', and this continues to use the original meaning of the word in English.

Plump is not seen in this sense until 1540, prior to that the word referred to someone who was 'blunt, dull' when it came to the individual's manners.

Chubby, daft as it may seem, describes someone as 'resembling a chub'. This freshwater fish is, compared to others in our rivers, rather rotund. While the origin of 'chub' is unclear, there is some thought that it comes from Old Norse kumba 'log' or kumben 'stumpy'.

Portly is not a 'fat' synonym until the end of the 16th century, prior to that it described someone with a 'port' appearance, ie of 'stately, dignified, or noble appearance and carriage'. While 'port' has fallen out of favour in English, both 'portly' and 'deportment' are still in use, albeit the former with a very different meaning.

Flabby is a variation of 'flappy', recorded in 1590 as referring to soft flesh and clearly derived from 'flap', where the etymology is unknown.

Dumpy has an unclear etymology, but must be related to 'dumpling' in coming from the noun 'dump'. It has only been used in this context since 1750.

Chunky is also unrecorded until the middle of the eighteenth century. Clearly derived from 'chunk', itself from 'chuck' as in a cut of meat which, in turn, comes from 'chock' which is still used to refer to a 'block' (used as a brake for aircraft, for example), and that comes from Gaulish tsukka 'a tree stump'.

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