Posted by: Jack Henry | July 28, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Two Old-Fashioned Terms

Good morning!

In an email conversation with Susan R., I used two old-fashioned terms that made me curious, so I thought I’d dig a little deeper into both of them. That makes today “Where did that term come from?” Thursday.

The first term I used was old fogey (I accused myself of sounding like one). I’ve certainly used the term before, but as I started researching, I realized I wasn’t even sure how to spell it, so I don’t think I’ve ever actually written or typed it. But where did it come from? Well, we all know what old means, so let’s move on to fogey. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides this information:

fogey (n.)

also fogy, "an old, dull fellow," 1780, Scottish foggie, originally "army pensioner or veteran," perhaps connected to fogram (1772) "old-fashioned," also "old-fashioned person;" or from fog (n.2) in an obsolete senses of "moss," or from foggy "bloated, fat" (1520s), which perhaps is an extended sense of fog (n.2). Related: Fogeydom; fogeyish; fogeyism.

So, as it’s currently used, the word means exactly what we all probably guessed. When we call a person an old fogey, we mean that they an old, dull, out-of-touch individual. However, it’s interesting to know that it’s originally a Scottish phrase, that it didn’t start off with a negative connotation, and that it’s been around since the 18th century.

The other term I used was not one whit. I know that the saying means “not at all; not even a little bit.” But what does the word whit mean? I was already searching the Online Etymology Dictionary, so I typed in “whit” and got this information:

whit (n.)

"smallest particle," 1520s, from na whit "no amount" (c. 1200), from Old English nan wiht, from wiht "amount," originally "person, human being" (see wight).

Well that’s interesting! That’s a very old word. I’ve also heard the even stuffier phrase “It matters not one whit.” I’m definitely going to force that into a conversation (as I adjust my spectacle).

The Collins English Dictionary has this to say about whit:

You say not a whit or not one whit to emphasize that something is not the case at all. [mainly formal, or old-fashioned, emphasis]

He cared not a whit for the social, political, or moral aspects of literature.

Like fogey, the word whit is an old-fashioned word but that doesn’t mean we should stop using it. Old words, new words, big words, little words, what a lot of words we can choose from. Spice it up, my friends!

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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