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May 15, 2018

I was walking along the other day and I passed an elderly couple in the street. She was breezing along, but he was walking with a stick and struggling to keep up. I heard him say, “Slow down, Helen, I’m not so fleet as I used to be!”

Not so fleet. A curiously touching expression. Does anyone say fleet any more? It has an old-fashioned, literary air about it. Fleet of foot. You might use it in a tale about an athlete in Ancient Greece, or a horse in a mediaeval romance; not so much about an old bloke shuffling along Walhamstow High Street. It is still often used in the adjective fleeting, though, to mean quickly passing or short-lived. I don’t know its etymology, but I’d be prepared to bet it is linked, some way back, to fly, and perhaps float too.

And that is all I have to say about fleet.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Simon Carter permalink

    And of course Fleet Street and the River Fleet which come from the same root. Float is related.

    • Ah, yes, I’m sure that’s right. Good point. The River Fleet was so called because it was fast-flowing, I suppose. (I’m now wondering if ‘flow’ and even ‘fluid’ are etymologically related too.)

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    Fleet and float seem to have the same root (also fleet in the naval sense) from an old English word meaning both ship and estuary. In As You Like It Shakespeare uses it as – They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly. Meaning to pass the time.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Mark’s game comes into play again. As You Like It with a banana.

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    Just read this; ‘His body simply loved this song; he made no attempt to disguise the fact that he was dancing down the street, the wind at his back making him as fleet of foot as Gene Kelly’ ‘On Beauty’, Zadie Smith, page 242,

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