May 28, 2013

Case File #013.05.28: FIEND

Linguists and etymologists believe that the noun fiend can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Germanic verb fijaejan, meaning “to hate.” Old English speakers inherited the verb but Anglicized the spelling to feogan, and from this they derived the noun feond, meaning “foe” or “enemy.” When feond passed into Middle English, the spelling first changed to fend and then later to feend, and the word was used now as a designation not for foes in general but for one specific foe: the Devil. By the time modern English started to displace Middle English in the fifteenth century, feend had transformed into the now familiar fiend—the ie spelling was likely influenced by the many Middle French words, such as brief and fierce, that English borrowed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—and had also acquired the more general meaning of “a person of great wickedness or maliciousness.” But the sense in which fiend refers to an obsessed or addicted person, as in golf fiend or drug fiend, is a relatively new one that first appeared circa 1886.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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