Fake – To polish

Fake – not genuine; imitation or counterfeit.

It’s a word which has been thrown around a lot lately, especially in the American media, but where does it come from?

It’s past is actually rather murky; it has its origins in criminal slang and was a word used to deliberately confuse – so that those who weren’t part of the group wouldn’t know what was being discussed.

‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’ (Flash language being the term given to criminal slang) by James Hardy Vaux in 1819, has this as it’s entry:

“To fake any person or place, may signify to rob them; to fake a person, may also imply to shoot, wound, or cut; to fake a man out and out, is to kill him; a man who inflicts wounds upon, or otherwise disfigures, himself, for any sinister purpose, is said to have faked himself; if a man’s shoe happens to pinch, or gall his foot, from its being overly tight, he will complain that his shoe fakes his foot sadly; it also describes the doing of any act, or fabricating any thing, as, to fake your slangs, is to cut your irons in order to escape from custody; to fake your pin, is to create a sore leg, or to cut it, as if accidentally, with an axe, etc., in hopes to obtain a discharge from the army or navy, to get into the doctor’s list, etc.; to fake a screeve, is to write a letter, or other paper; to fake a screw, is to shape out a skeleton or false key, for the purpose of screwing a particular place; to fake a cly, is to pick a pocket; etc., etc., etc.”

However the word was used previously, and the Oxford English Dictionary dates the word to 1775.

Although it’s uncertain, the most likely etymology is that it comes from the word ‘feague’ which means ‘to improve appearance through artificial means’, which in turn comes from the German ‘fegan’ meaning ‘to polish’.

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