How did “fan” originate?

May 9, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Language

Fan, in the sense of an enthusiast over baseball, football, radio or any other sport, amusement, entertainment or avocation, is modern and is believed to be a contraction of fanatic. The theory, often advanced by popular writers, that fan in this sense is derived from the verb to fan, signifying to blow upon, to stimulate to action or to excite to activity, is not generally accepted by philologists.

This word apparently came into general use sometime between 1880 and 1900. It is supposed, with some reason, that it originated as follows: Chris Van der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns, during the latter part of the eighties stated that Charles Haas was the greatest baseball fanatic he had ever seen. Newspaper and sports writers took up the word and began to call baseball enthusiasts fanatics, which was later shortened to fan by the headline writers. At first the term was sometimes spelled fann.

It is an interesting fact that centuries ago fan was frequently used as a contraction of fanatic in the literal sense of that word. There is probably no relation between fan as applied to enthusiasts over the game and the verb fan as applied to striking out while batting.

There is one other theory that deserves mention. The following entry occurs in Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue as Revised and Corrected by Pierce Egan (1823) : “The Fancy: one of the fancy is a sporting character that is either attached to pigeons, dog-fighting, boxing, etc.” Since the fancy was long a name in both Britain and America for followers of prize fighting, some suppose that the term was borrowed by baseball and shortened first to the fance, then to fans, and finally to fan. But no known etymological evidence supports this theory.


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