Fair - fare

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A pair of homophones that are sometimes confused are the adjective, sometimes noun, fair, and the noun and verb fare - both are pronounced IPA: /fɛə/.

  • A fair was a form of market, held on some special day, maybe once or twice a year; sometimes more often. It was commonly a religious festival, as in Bartholomew Fair (held on the feast day of St Bartholomew). Fairs were occasions for trade. Some, held in the spring or autumn seasons, were 'hiring fairs', where farmworkers might be engaged for the year: one is described in Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. A great 'Horse Fair' is held annually in June at Appleby in Cumbria, where gypsies and others trade horses. Nowadays, fairs are usually international gatherings of vast scope, as in the 'World Fair' or Exposition Universelle, held from time to time, at which countries compete to show themselves off in their best light. Locally, the nearest thing most of us in the UK see to a traditional fair is a travelling funfair, which is a lavish and extravagant collection of entertainments such as roundabouts, dodgem cars and coconut shies. Hull Fair competes with Nottingham's Goose Fair for the title of the biggest in England.
  • As an adjective, fair at first meant 'pleasant to the sight', and thus came to be part of a noun phrase meaning 'women' - or 'the fair sex'. It later came to be applied to other senses, sound and smell, and was used, not always in a complimentary sense, of language: "He speaks fair words" sometimes had the connotation 'but he does no good'. It means light-coloured, of hair or skin - like the French word 'blonde', which is used more often of women's hair nowadays. A fair amount, estate or fortune means a generous quantity - it is now to be avoided in academic writing, as it is felt to be colloquial. The ideas of attractive and generous seems to have led early on to the general sense of 'moral', 'equitable' and 'just', or 'unbiased'. English law seeks to offer all accused a fair trial;, and games should be played on fair pitches; and fair dice are those in which all six numbers have the same chance of landing on top. "It's not fair!" is a common protest from a child who feels unjustly treated; whereas a teacher who writes 'Fair work' on the child's book means 'decent effort' - but probably not outstanding work. Fair weather is good weather; and in golf, the fairway is the best part of the grass mowed between the rough.
  • 'To fare' first meant 'to travel'. So the payment for a journey by public transport is the fare, and, colloquially, taxi divers may refer to a passenger as a fare. Fare came also to mean 'the food supplied [in a restaurant, etc]', and bill of fare was the older term in English for what is now called by the French name 'menu'.