• fustian •
fêsh-chên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. [Noun] A coarse sturdy cloth made of cotton and flax. 2. [Noun] Pompous, pretentious, bombastic language. 3. [Adjective] Made of or resembling fustian. 4. [Adjective] In a pompous, pretentious, bombastic style.
Notes: Today's word is another lexical orphan, meaning it has to do the work of two: noun and adjective. The curious aspect of this word is the relationship of its two meanings: "coarse material" and "bombast". How did they arise? The original metaphorical sense of fustian, the material, was "gibberish", i.e. fake, deceptive language. From there it went to where it stands today: empty, if fancy, words.
In Play: Occasionally Dr. Goodword admits that other writers use words as well as he; however, the writers must be as excellent as these: "[He] disliked the heavy, fustian . . . and brocaded decor of Soviet officialdom" (Frederick Forsyth). While Forsyth used the literal meaning of the word, Joseph Heller used the metaphorical sense in Catch-22: "Yossarian was unmoved by the fustian charade of the burial ceremony".
Word History: This curious word is from Old French fustaigne, which evolved from Medieval Latin fustianum, a word that seems to come from Latin fustis, "wooden stick", earlier "tree trunk". It might have been part of a loan translation of Greek xylina lina "wood-linen = cotton". Much more than likely, however, it was taken from el-Fustat, the district in Cairo, Egypt, famous as the original region where fustian was made. If so, the trail back to this word is long and entangled since it is cold, making the connection still just an educated guess. (The trail to the unfustian person we must thank for today's Good Word, Patricia Castellanos, is much warmer.)
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