Faint - feint

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Many years ago, at school, we were made to learn an important distinction between these two spellings. In adult life, one finds that the distinction is meaningless. The two words are simply different spellings.

  • Nowadays, feint is largely reserved, as OED says, for commercial use. It is mostly used for stationery. Paper for study purposes is commonly described as "ruled feint", meaning that it has pale lines drawn on it, to act as a guide for handwriting.
    • For differences in the meaning of this spelling of the word, see feint.
  • The more usual way of writing the word - where stationery is not concerned - is faint. This has the basic meaning of 'not strong', and more particularly in talking of colours, not strong, or not dark. "The dawn was still only a faint lessening of the darkness."
    • The noun, 'a faint', meaning 'a swoon;, 'a [temporary] loss of consciousness', and the related verb 'to faint', come from a developed sense of the adjective as far back as Middle English, where faint ('not strong') was applied to people, in such senses as 'sluggish', 'feeble', 'lacking courage', to 'feeble', 'sickly' and 'indistrinct' or 'dim'.