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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Fans for fans

For the past few weeks, baseball fans have been worshipping at their chosen shrine with a fervour that verges on the religious. This is not surprising in view of the origins of the word “fan”. It was in reference to baseball, in fact, that the word was first used, in the 1880s, before being extended to other sports and then to the theatre and other activities. It is a shortening of “fanatic”, derived from the Latin word fanaticus meaning “pertaining to a temple” (the Latin word for “temple” being fanum). But fanaticus also had an extended meaning, “inspired by orgiastic rites, frantic with religious enthusiasm”. I don't know if a baseball game can be described as an orgiastic rite, but fans can certainly get frantic.
To cool their ardour, they might want the other kind of fan, but that is a different word entirely, from the Latin vannus, originally a type of basket for winnowing grain by tossing it in the air. This word came to be applied to a hand held device used for agitating the air.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.