Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wordsmith: The Etymology of "Fop"

The ill-clad populace accuses me of foppery; I accuse them of feeble taste.
-Lord Robert McIlhenny

A fop in the word’s driest sense is a man overly-concerned with or vain about his manner of dress or, more vividly, a dandy, a coxcomb. We experience the traditional image of foppishness today primarily through antiquated representations of pompously-styled men in theatrical period pieces, such as the male participants of the grand ball in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” although the term predates the French Revolution by a century.

‘Fop’ originated in late 17th-century London as an acronym: F.O.P., meaning Friend of Peter, a contemporary euphemism for a ‘dainty’ man with affected speech patterns. Peter, in turn, referred to Peter Stent, a prominent London printmaker active earlier in the century. Stent was a rumored member of the underground community of flamboyant gallants due to his fondness for large powdered wigs, ruffled shirts, elegant coats, and haughty speech. With Stent the most well-known member, other purported members of the group were labeled as his friends.

Although no longer termed as such, modern-day foppishness is exemplified by Ivy-educated, collar-popping, seersucker-clad youths and metrosexuals.


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  2. Interesting. My favorite Lord Robert McIlhenny quote is: "A Gentleman not only deserves fine wine, but fine polysyllabic speech." Which amuses me since LRM was an Etonian at heart but not by degree.

  3. Some very interesting articles on your site! Would it be possible to add some references so that we can read around the subject? many thanks

  4. Wonder whether the word is related to "guappo." Direction of influence?