Printable Version
Pronunciation: fayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb, adjective

Meaning: 1. (Adverb) Happily, gladly, willingly, as in fain accept apologies. 2. (Adjective) Preferably, sooner, as in fain be dead than eat what is before me. 3. (Adjective) Obliged, obligated, as in fain to pick up some bread on the way home.

Notes: Most dictionaries claim that this word is archaic, but then one of them provides a quotation containing it from a 2002 newspaper article. Even if the word is dead today in most parts of the English-speaking world, we run into it in the literature of the 19th century. It will be difficult to breathe new life into this word even if we care to, since it stands alone in the world, a lexical orphan without any family.

In Play: If you are the sort that likes to surprise your friends, you might try saying something like this: "I would fain drink a cup of tea." Be prepared for a lot of blank faces unless you add, "Would anyone else care for a cup?" When you step out of the room, expect a stampede for the dictionary. Be sure there is one in the room before you use this word. "I would love to watch the game with you this afternoon, Fred, but I'm fain to mow the lawn."

Word History: In Old English this word was fagen "glad, cheerful, happy" from a common Germanic root: compare Old Saxon fagan, Old Norse feginn "glad," and Gothic faginon "to rejoice". The trail grows cold at Proto-Germanic. We do know that Old English had a verb, fagnian, built upon fagen. By Middle English this verb had become faunen and the meaning of the verb changed from "rejoice" to "flatter", hence today's fawn. (I would fain offer a word of thanks to one of the editors of the Good Word series, Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, for his suggestion of today's dusty but not dead Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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