Printable Version
Pronunciation: foyst Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To pass or palm off something phony. 2. To force or impose something unwanted on someone. 3. (Obsolete) To palm (dice). This led to foist being used as a noun referring to a cheat or scoundrel, an association that continues today.

Notes: Today's word is closely related to fist semantically and etymologically. Along with palm in such phrases as, 'to palm off', it is associated with sleight of hand and other tricks. This word has a very small family containing only foister "someone who foists." Foisty once existed, but it meant "fusty, moldy", going back to the days when a wine cask was called a foist.

In Play: We are most accustomed to this word as a formal way to indicate an attempt to palm something off: "Some guy stopped by this afternoon and tried to foist an electric fork on me. He said it would chew the food for me." It has, however, been confused with force and picked up sense No. 2 above: "The boss has foisted Constance Noring on my team. Boy, will that slow us down!"

Word History: Today's Good Word probably started out as Dutch vuisten "to grab" from Middle Dutch vuist "fist." Of course, our noun fist came from the same source, the PIE root penkwe-/ponkwe- "five", with a Fickle N darting in and out in its usual way. As we all know, the PIE [p] became [f] in Germanic languages, so German fünf (with the Fickle N) and English five (without it) come as no surprise. But then if we add the very common suffix -er, we get finger, five of which we have on each hand. Of course, if we roll them up into a fist, all five remain. So, fist is just the result of another suffix, -sti, added to the same root long ago. The same relation between words for "five" and "fist" exists in Polish, Czech, and Slovak. Now, here is where it gets really interesting: Punjab, the name of the region now split between India and Pakistan, is a Persian word comprising panj "five" + ab "water, river", referring to the five tributaries to the Indus found there. That word, panj and Hindi pac "five" come from the same original word as our five, finger, fist, and today's Good Word, foist!

Dr. Goodword,

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