Printable Version
Pronunciation: fe-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Just, honest, impartial, not breaking any spoken or unspoken rules, rational, as 'a fair judge' or 'fair procedures'. 2. Moderately good, between good and bad, e.g. 'in fair health'. 3. Comely, pretty, agreeable, as 'a fair maiden'. 4. (Having) light colored skin or hair, as 'fair-haired'. 5. Unblemished by bad things, as 'fair copy' or 'fair skies'.

Notes: Fair is a word we use all the time. It brings with it an adverb, fairly, and a noun, fairness. A diminutive adjective, fairish, can be heard or read occasionally. The nouns fair and fairy are unrelated coincidental homophones and homographs.

In Play: "Free and fair elections" is a phrase that arises frequently in 2021. Otherwise, the idea of fairness underlies the presumption of impartial justice: "The judge wanted to be fair to the boy convicted of murdering his parents and was now begging for mercy because he was an orphan."

Word History: Today's Good Word descended from Old English fæger "pleasing, pretty", which came from Proto-Germanic fagraz with the same meaning. Fagraz was the source of Norwegian and Swedish fager "beautiful", and Danish fager "fair". Proto-Germanic inherited its word from PIE pek-/pok- "pretty, nice", source also of Polish piekny "beautiful", and Lithuanian púošti "to decorate". The noun fair is completely unrelated to the adjective. English borrowed this word from Old French feire "fair, market", which it inherited from Latin feria "holiday, fair", a word akin to festa "holidays, feasts", the noun use of the plural of festum "festive, joyful, solemn". (Now let's thank Janet Ann Collins, who wondered about the two meanings of today's lovely Good Word and shared her wonder with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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