LANGUAGE HAS ALWAYS INTERESTED ME. A little bit of etymology can be fun and fascinating, so I thought I would share a recent discovery here. When I was a young lad, I went into the city — and on the streets of Glasgow, I heard a full-grown man being called “a wee fanny” for the first time.

It is clearly derogatory to call someone a “fanny”; no-one wants to be a fanny (even though it is unclear exactly what it is). Add to that the distinction that, on occasion, a person might be said to be acting like a fanny.

I also remember reading Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” books, and sniggering because a character in the book was called “Aunt Fanny”. The fact that Fanny could be a person’s actual, real, Christian name was a source of great mirth to all youngsters. I recently discovered that the publishers of Blyton’s other books have replaced all the Fanny references with “Franny”!

Equally factual and funny is that North Americans call their bottoms “Fannies”. What’s all this “fanny business”?

It is is everyday common use, so I wondered where it came from — and I think I have found out where it all started: France.

The modern version of Pétanque originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, a town in the Provence region of the South of France. Petanque is a version of Boules; in Boules, players run and throw a ball, but in Pétanque, the ball is thrown from a stationary player.  It is an incredibly popular game, especially in France. The idea is for players to take turns to throw a metal ball from a distance. The winner is the boule measured as nearest the small wooden ball (cochonnet). Each score is tallied, and the first to reach 13 is the winner of the game.

[Poster of Pétanque fanny 13-nil]The legend is that, between the world wars, in France’s Savoy region, a waitress called Fanny at the Café de Grand-Lemps, was so kind-hearted that she would allow customers who had lost a game without scoring a single point to kiss her on the cheek as a consolation prize. One day the Mayor lost 13-0 and went to Fanny for the kiss on the cheek – but instead she spun round, whipped up her skirts, and offered the cheeks of her bottom!  The Mayor went ahead and kissed her bum cheeks, and ever since then this has been the tradition.

Because her name was Fanny, anyone losing a game without scoring a single point, was called a “Fanny”. Here’s an excerpt from wikipedia on the subject:

To fanny (mettre fanny in French)- To beat one’s opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny is ubiquitous in Provence wherever pétanque is played. It is traditional that when a player loses 13 to 0 it is said that “il est fanny” (he’s a fanny) or “il a fait fanny” (he made fanny), and that he has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny. Since there is rarely an obliging Fanny’s behind handy, there is usually a substitute picture, woodcarving or pottery so that Fanny’s bottom is available. More often, the team which made “fanny” has to offer a beverage to the winning team (see the French popular expression “Fanny paie à boire !”).

To technical fanny – To beat one’s opponents by scoring 13 consecutive points without the opposition scoring anymore but having already scored. For example a team could score 12 points and the opposition could then score all 13 points and win the game with a technical fanny.

So if you get beat 13 – nil, you have to kiss a wooden bottom.  You are called “a fanny”, and as such, you have to buy a round of drinks for the winners/ everyone.

Suddenly, I understood better how the term is used as a light-hearted but derogatory term.  It’s a loser who’s lost big time.

I can see how North Americans would call buttocks, “Fannies” now — as well as references such as “ass-kissing”, “Kiss My Ass”, and desperately trying to find an “arse-covering solution” to a competitive situation one is losing. It’s not merely about losing, it’s the humiliation of scoring zero points.


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