• fettle •
fet-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. (Archaic even in Scotland, I hear) A belt or strap. 2. Condition, health, or state.
Notes: Today's Good Word is still used as a verb meaning to put things in order, tidy up, arrange, or prepare. In Australia, a fettler is a railway maintenance worker. It also describes the final phase of manufacturing when the rough edges of products are smoothed off and the final product is "tightened up" (see Word History). The gist of all its meanings is to put something into excellent order.
In Play: In most English-speaking areas, today's Good Word is limited to the crystallized phrase in fine fettle: "I was surprised that Armand seemed to be in fine fettle this morning despite his hard partying last night." However, the word retains its sense of "condition" and may be used accordingly: "Mortimer has a toothache this morning that puts him in agonizing fettle, so don't annoy him."
Word History: The origins of today's Good Word are obscure. It seems to have come from the word for "belt", Old English fetel, related to German Fessel "chain, fetter". Indeed, fetter itself appears to be a relative. The verb was used in the sense of "tidy up" and also "prepare", as to fettle oneself for battle or the road. This sense seems to have come from "tightening up", which means "to put into (better) order" even today. Anything in fine fettle, therefore, is something tightened up and in good order. (Our vocabularies are now in better fettle because Stan Davis of Lakewood, Colorado, suggested this fine Good Word.)