Printable Version
Pronunciation: fi-nay-gêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To obtain by devious means, to get something by scheming.

Notes: We know that this is a real English word because it has none of the Latin elements associated with so many English words, elements like -ment, -ation, and -ious. We may call someone caught finagling a finagler and use the present participle, finagling, as a noun or adjective. That is all the variants this word has.

In Play: Several dictionaries depict finagle as a pejorative term implying immoral means, but that is not necessarily the case: "Harry Wormser-Goode spent his life finagling a dollar here, a dollar there by whatever means he could muster." Even when it does, the implication is that any dishonesty is minor: "No one had any idea how Helen Highwater finagled her way into the reception for Senator Hannigan without an invitation or press pass."

Word History: Today's Good Word arose rather mysteriously in the 1920s in the United States. It is quite possibly a variant of fainaigue "to cheat, renege, to shirk". This word seems to be related to another word seldom used, faineant "an idler", literally "one who does nothing" from the French phrase fait "he does" + néant "nothing". However, finagle may just as well have come from feign "fake" + ague "illness". Yet another ancient and marginal word that may have played a role in the development of finagle is figgle, a phonetic variant of fiddle "to fidget about". This is all speculation, however, built on the assumption that words that sound alike and have any semantic relation at all are related. That is not always the case. (There is no way we can finagle our way out of thanking David Myer for suggesting today's very Good mystery Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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