Fell (meanings)

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Several words are written fell - they are homonyms. There are two verbal uses, several nouns, and an adjective.

  • As a noun, a fell can be:
    • a technical term in farming and leather-working, meaning the skin of an animal, with the hair still on it. In some historical uses in the wool trade, it was separate from the fleece;
    • in the North of England and, less, in Southern Scotland, a fell is a kind of moor: a rough pasture/wasteland on high ground, or a flattish hill (without a clear peak), or high slope, usually covered with rough wild grasses, bracken or heather.
    • There is a rare noun meaning 'bitterness', probably derived from the Latin for gall.
    • In forestry, a fell is a collective noun naming all the trees felled in a single process of felling.
Other technical meanings of fell exist in mining and in printing.
  • The adjective, and a derivative adverb, fell means 'cruel[ly]', 'deadly', 'terrible/terribly' or, in general, 'to be feared'. It is, says OED "Now only poet[ical] or rhetorical"; but you can still come across it in such contexts as
      • Thomas Carlyle's translation of Luther's hymn Ein' Feste Burg, 'A Safe Stronghold our God is still', which contains the following lines about Satan:
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell
      • Shakespeare's horror at the homicidal thoroughness of Macbeth, whose slaughter of MacDuff's family provokes the latter to say
All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop? (Macbeth IV iii 216ff), which has become a regular idiom; and Hamlet, sensing the approach of death, says to Horatio
... as this fell sergeant Death
Is strict in his arrest
(Shakespeare(1604) Hamlet V. ii. 288)
      • W. E. Henley 1849-1903 in his poem Invictus (1888) on the dauntless spirit of man says
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud:
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

You may want to consult Feeling - felling.