|Photo by Gord McKenna|
Yeah, no trick questions here--I just happened to pay more attention to the word recently and wondered what the whole idea behind it was. I have a feeling that having time to wonder about whether things are fun or not is a relatively recent human development, although on the other hand I think fun itself has probably been with us for a long time. But what is it?
I'm always surprised when a simple English word that we all know, use (and can probably even spell in this case) proves elusive. "Fun" turns out to be a bit in that frustrating "origins unknown" category. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its sense of "diversion" or "amusement" comes second. First off, it meant a trick or hoax. The noun came from the verb form, which meant to cheat or hoax, and preceded the milder meaning of the noun by a good bit. Before that, though, it all gets a bit hazy. Some think it comes from the Middle English fonnen, to befool. "Fond" is apparently related. But no one really knows.
There are a few fun things about "fun", though. For one thing, it doesn't really have a true correlate in other languages. Or so says Darius Kazemi, over on his blog, Tiny Subversions. I was thinking the same thing--how do you really translate the word?
Did you know that the word “fun” is unique to the English language? In other languages, the word they use in similar circumstances translates to “diversion,” “amusement,” or something similar, but there is no word meaning exactly “fun.” (The etymology of the word goes back to Middle English, where we lose the trail.)
We don’t really precisely know what fun is: it seems to be a chimera consisting of many different emotions. So it’s disingenuous to say that a game is or isn’t some degree of fun. That said, fun still exists as a concept, whether we like it or not.
Kazemi also recommends the book A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster, which I might just have to check out sometime.
Personally, I don't really think fun has much to do with fond. It does have a relation to funny, of course, and funny has a connection to that older meaning of hoax, as in the phrase "something feels funny about this to me." Is it possible that funny, as in odd, actually has a connection to the word phony?
Whatever else, though, etymologists do seem to have a lot of fun. Regular readers here will be familiar with the dry humor of Anatoly Liberman, and if not, I should be writing about him soon. If you look at etymological sources at all regularly, you will soon run across the attribution "Skeat", but it was not till now that I actually came across the actual irascible voice of the man. This entry in Notes and Queries comes from the volume dated July to December, 1880.
The “etymology ” of fun from A.-S. feán (not fean) is too ridiculous to be worth “
Walter W. Skeat