Fanny

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Fanny is a word that can cause problems. It has several meanings, one at least of which may give offence. The earliset of the current meanings is a proper noun, one which is little used in current English.

  • Fanny is a short form of the forename Frances. There are two main types of such shortenings: they are convenient for writing, e.g. in lists; or they are essentially spoken pet-names, and thus informal. (See Conventional abbreviations for forenames.)
Short form Long form Informal or written Other short forms Remarks
Fanny Frances informal Franny; Frankie not much used as a pet-name now, perhaps because of the common noun.

There is a list of similar names at Conventional abbreviations for forenames, as well as the category:short names

Note that any informal form may be spelled in different ways. Notably, any spelling listed that ends in '-ie' may be written with the ending '-y', and vice versa.

Several famous people have used this forename, and some fictional heroines. Amongst them are:

    • Fanny Burney, or Fanny d'Arblay (1752-1840) (as the Oxford Dictionary of English puts it, she was "born Frances Burney"), English novelist, member of Dr Johnson's circle, wife of Général d'Arblay, a refugee from the French Revolution. Her novels include Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782), and Camilla (1796), and her Letters and Diaries (1846) are highly regarded.
    • Fanny Trollope (1780-1863) was a novelist and travel writer who wrote over 40 novels from 1830, after her husband's deficiencies made the family poor. These are becoming more read, as the world begins to take more notice of women writers: during the twentieth century, she was more known as the mother of Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), a highly regarded Victorian (male) novelist. She was famous for Domestic Manners of the Americans, which led to Paris and the Parisians (1835), Vienna and the Austrians (1838) and A Visit to Italy. Novels include Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw (1836), The Vicar of Wrexhill (1837), The Widow Barnaby (1839) and Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy (1840).
    • Fanny Adams (1859-1867) was victim, at the age of 8, of a notorious murder and dismemberment. Her name became a common phrase through black humour.
      • When given tins of mutton as rations in 1869, sailors in the Royal Navy named them "sweet Fanny Adams", as they were just lumps of flesh. The tins, which were used as serving utensils, became known as fannies, still the term in the navy for 'mess tins'.
        • Sweet F. A. ('sweet Fanny Adams') became a slang phrase for 'nothing at all', often said to be from the taboo phrase "fuck all", meaning 'nothing'.
    • Fanny Price is the heroine of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814); Fanny Hill is the eponymous heroine of a pornographic novel of 1748, subtitled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.
  • As a common noun, fanny is always informal, and should not be used in academic writing. It is one of the differences between American and British English that it doesn't mean the same in the different varieties. Be very careful.
    • In American English, and formerly in Britain, it means the buttocks: "he did nothing: just sat there all day on his fanny"; a male character in Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears (1937) "progress, my fanny!" as a modern speaker might say "progress, my arse!"; and one may, in ice or snow, 'fall flat on one's fanny'. Although informal, this is not particularly unacceptable.
    • In modern Britain, fanny means the female sex organs accessible to a lover - what Americans tend to term pussy. The word is characterized in Collins COBUILD as INFORMAL, ! VERY RUDE, and should be avoided.
Speakers of American English should learn to use bumbag in Britain for what they may call a fannypack in the USA.
      • This British vulgarism gives rise, by a common English association of terms for sexual matters with vulgar disapproval, to the phrasal verb 'to fanny [about]' meaning 'to waste time', 'to dither'.
  • The abbreviations for the names of some organizations have been vulgarized into Fanny:
    • In British history, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, formed in 1907 as a women's nursing unit of the Army. The name was abbreviated to F.A.N.Y., and its members were known to British servicemen as ;Fannies, probably with some reference to one or other of the slang meanings.
    • In the USA, the Federal National Mortgage Association, founded during the Depression in 1937 to secure home ownership, and effectively re-formed in 2008 in response to the recession, was popularly known as Fannie Mae.