Word of the Week

Week one: FIREFANG, by David Sutton

When I first encountered the word FIREFANG I felt that it should denote some mythical monster, perhaps a vampire whose bite had a conveniently cauterising effect, and indeed I see that it has been appropriated in this spirit for use in Pokemon. The truth is more prosaic: FIREFANG means 'to scorch; in particular, to damage especially barley and oats by overheating'. The FANG element is the same as the word denoting a canine tooth, and has the primary meaning of 'to catch hold of'. The same root meaning can be seen at work in the Old English legal terms INFANGTHIEF, the right of taking and fining a thief within the boundary of one's own jurisdiction, and OUTFANGTHIEF, the right of judging and fining thieves pursued and brought back from outside one's own jurisdiction.

Scrabble players will know that Shakespeare, no doubt realising that it would provide a very useful P- hook for future generations, used the spelling PHANG for FANG, with exactly this meaning: 'to catch hold of in the teeth'. And of course PHANG itself takes a front hook letter, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you...

Finally it is worth taking note of FANGLIKE and FANGLESS, the latter providing a not entirely obvious -S hook for FANGLES.


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