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December 28, 2018

My children gave me a stocking this Christmas, with such welcome goodies as socks, pens, chocolate and a bottle of Chivas Regal therein – and also a book, sourced from a second-hand bookshop, called Tom Merry and Co. of St. Jim’s by Frank Richards. Now, I know Frank Richards’ Greyfriars stories (starring Harry Wharton and Billy Bunter etc) very well indeed; but I knew much less about his St Jim’s stories, so I read it with pleasure and interest. The boys at St Jim’s use all the same slang as the Greyfriars bunch: Rats, Go and eat coke, You howling ass, You image etc and, the subject of this post, fathead.

Fathead. That’s a funny insult. It’s not unique to Frank Richards. Enid Blyton used it a lot too. But I have never heard it used in real life. No one ever says it. It’s a word that is used only in books. And in fact, when I first came across it I didn’t understand it and thought it was pronounced fath-eed. Are there any other words, I wonder, which appear only in books, not in real life? The only similar example I can think of, off the top of my head, is the expression Naff off, which was invented for the sitcom Porridge. The strange thing about that one is that, post-Porridge, people did start saying it in real life, for a while at least. But I have still never heard anyone say fathead.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    My Grandfather used to say Fathead but only, I suspect, to avoid swearing in front of my Nan. He also used to say, “Ah ha he cried in Japanese and waved his wooden leg aloft” which always pleased me.

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    Makes a change from “Eureka” anyway. My guess is that it was a music hall phrase but I don’t know.

  3. Sarah Parnell permalink

    My husband (67) used to call people fathead regularly (and still does occasionally!).

    My mother’s version of the wooden leg saying was: “‘Heavens!’ she cried and waved her wooden leg before she died”.

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    My dad always used the word too. And I believe that Princess Anne is on record as having told a stupid reporter to ‘naff off’.

  5. Simon Carter permalink

    Naff is often said to have originated in Polari as an acronym of Not Available For Fxxxxxx. Another possible origin was in back slang (as a back formation of fanny although that seems unlikely)
    . Back slang has pretty much disappeared except “yob” but I remember old men in London who still used “rouf” and “neves” for four and seven.

  6. Craig permalink

    A couple of years ago I sat on some wooden garden furniture that had obiously been left outside in all weather for some years to rot (Honestly). I went through it and was promptly called a fathead….. Lovely!

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