Meanings: “Faggot”

January 8, 2012

I fell to wondering about the possible connection between the two main meanings of “faggot;” a bundle of sticks in one usage, and a derisive term for a male homosexual on the other.

The earlier meaning is the ‘bundle of sticks’ one.  It dates in English from the late 13th century, and comes from the Latin fascis meaning “bundle of wood.”  Etymology.com goes to say that the term was “Especially used for burning heretics (emblematic of this from 1550s), so that phrase fire and faggot was used to indicate ‘punishment of a heretic.’ Heretics who recanted were required to wear an embroidered figure of a faggot on their sleeve, as an emblem and reminder of what they deserved.”  (Note that the Latin fascis is also the source of “fascism.”  Mussolini used the image of fascis for the Fascists emblem.)

But the use of “faggot” as an offensive term for a male homosexual dates from the early 20th century, and does not come directly from the idea that faggots (sticks) were used to burn heretics.  Instead, says etymology.com, it probably comes from an “earlier contemptuous term for ‘woman’ (1590s), especially an old and unpleasant one, in reference to faggot (1) ‘bundle of sticks,’ as something awkward that has to be carried (cf. baggage ‘worthless woman,’ 1590s).”

“Faggot:”  a word with many repulsive associations.  To be avoided.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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