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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fun, fun, fun

I have just started teaching a new session of my Rollicking Story of English course, and a fun time is being had by all. 

As usual, I start off right away by brainwashing, oops I mean indoctrinating, oops I mean educating my students about how, when they encounter  usages different from their own, it's better to be curious and dispassionate than to be censorious.

All the same, a student came up at the end of class to complain, oops I mean inquire about a "young people today" usage she says causes her to "roll her eyes": saying something is "so fun" rather than "such fun". I get this complaint a lot from people over 70 (most of my students being in that age group).

So, the noun "fun" has become an adjective. This is not a surprising phenomenon in English, where we can easily use any noun to modify another one. As time goes on, that noun used attributively is just treated like an adjective. Some other nouns that have also morphed into adjectives are:
  1. giant
  2. dowdy
  3. key
  4. myriad
  5. standard
  6. staple
  7. stock
  8. dismal
  9. cheap 
  10. genius
 "Fun" itself didn't even start out as a noun. In the 17th century, it was a verb meaning ‘‘to cheat or hoax", a dialect variant of late Middle English fon (make a fool of, be a fool), related to fon (a fool), of unknown origin. 

But in the 18th century, "fun" took on a new role as a noun, meaning "a trick or joke", and then "a kind of amusement". Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary, however, was not amused. He called it "a low cant word". But obviously it served a purpose, because it stuck around.

There is attributive use of the noun "fun" (functioning effectively as an adjective) going back to the earliest years of the 20th century:

The Sigma Chi Quarterly: The Official Organ of the Sigma ...

Boys should have fun, but, as Superintendent Cotton says : "It is generally conceded that the fun side of boys and girls does not need any coaching." The high-school fraternity does not give the right kind of fun.

The Judge - Volume 69

“Film Fun”, the new magazine of the Comedy Motion Pictures, is devoted exclusively to the fun side of the films. It contains illustrations, funny stories, jokes–everything to make you happy.

The Saturday Evening Post - Volume 192, Issues 44-48 - Page 122

Luxury articles were in demand. Manufacturers were making big profits on them. So they kept on paying high wages to these laborers who were making luxury articles—fun stuff

Motorcycle Illustrated - Volume 18 - Page 30 



... best looking blonde and brunette, for the most expert lady drivers of sidecar outfits: for the neatest lady's riding suit; for neatest solo and sidecar outfit, including machine and driver. And still other fun events, but there isn't space to tell you all.

Boys' Life - Jul 1947 - Page 13

Vol. 37, No. 7 - ‎
FOUR-MAN CANOE RACE is a standard event that calls for plenty of teamwork. Place the best canoeist in the stern to keep canoe on the straight course. NO-PADDLE RACE is a fun event.

Having made that leap to attributive adjective, it was not hard to interpret "fun" as a predicative adjective rather than as a noun in sentences like "It will be fun". Logically, then, it requires the adverb "so" to modify it, rather than "such". It seems that "so fun" is a child of the Sixties, just after my students' linguistically formative years, the earliest I have found being: 

American kaleidoscope - Page 397

Julius Toldi - 1960 
9-year-old Kathleen likes art "because It is so fun and It teches me how to be a good artes and takes us away from school most lee arithmatic
Since then, it has become more and more common. Soon, no doubt, it will be as unexceptionable as using "cheap" as an adjective. 

Personally, I say "such fun" (I think), rather than "so fun". What do you say? Does "so fun" bug you?

For other words that were condemned when they first appeared but have since become standard, see this post:

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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.