Most of you will recognize this week’s word as a common term for butt; it may also recall memories of the fanny pack, one of the more memorable fashion offerings of the 80′s. ‘Fanny’ meaning butt is specific to this particular country- the U.S.- and is a fairly new slang term (within the past 50 years or so). In other English-speaking parts of the world, namely British locales, ‘fanny’ is slang for vulva. I’ve always been curious about this variance, so this week I did a little research on the subject.
Turns out there’s a lot more research to be done- I didn’t learn all that much about the U.S. or British versions of this slang word. There’s some common speculation that the second definition was taken from the book Fanny Hill, or: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland. Written in the 1748-50 period, this book has been established as one of the first pornographic texts written in English. What’s interesting is that while U.S. usage is pretty mild- ‘fanny’ is an acceptable term to use with children, for example- it is vulgar in British slang.
A related slang meaning of ‘fanny’ is a tin, mess kit, etc., like those used in the army. This usage originated in the British Royal Navy, and is explained by the murder of a girl, Fanny Adams, in 1867. She was literally butchered in a field (limbs and organs removed). Two years later, the Navy, unimpressed with new rations of tinned mutton, took to calling them the remains of Fanny Adams, and the name ‘fanny’ for tins of that nature stuck. The OED sites earliest use of this particular morpheme as 1904, which is consistent with the tale.