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Newfangled

Sometimes people describe new or unfamiliar things as newfangled, but have you ever thought about what that means? What's a fangle and how can it be new?

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
June 25, 2015

newfangled

If you’re listening to this podcast, you probably don’t have a problem with new technology, but maybe you have a few tech-averse friends or family members, who don’t have a lot of love for all these newfangled pieces of gadgetry. But what does fangled mean, anyway? If something is newfangled, does that meant it’s been recently fangled? How would you go about fangling something? Or maybe fangle isn’t a verb, but a noun, and something that is newfangled has been newly equipped with lots of fangles. 

As it turns out, speakers have been unsure about this for more than 500 years. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, fangle has been interpreted both as a verb meaning “to create,” and as a noun meaning “a silly invention.” 

However, the fangle in newfangled was originally neither a verb nor a noun, but an adjective. It came from a now archaic verb, fang, which meant “to grasp or seize,” and an equally archaic suffix –le. Add the suffix –le to a verb, and you get an adjective describing someone or something inclined to do the thing described by that verb. So fangle means “inclined to seize or grasp,” and in Middle English new-fangle meant “inclined to seize the new.” 

Later on, the –ed suffix got attached to the end, and both people and their actions or things were described as newfangled, and these days it, people seem to have settled on using newfangled to describe just things. 

This article was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in linguistics and blogs at literalminded.wordpress.com.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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