MA Relig. Freedom
Relig. Freedom II
Relig. Freedom III
Fun with History
Fun with History II
19th C. Words
19th C. Words II
Proof and Memory
The Word "List"
The Word "List" II
Gitmo Detainees I
Gitmo Detainees II
Words for Fraud
Lucid Intervals I
Lucid Intervals II
Lucid Intervals III
No to Guzek Case
Letting it Go
In Cold Blood I
In Cold Blood II
War in Iraq
Walk the Line
Chiseling, Palming Off and Other Frauds
Bill Long 11/12/05
Fobbing with Yet Another Detour
So as not to make these essays of interminable length, I will finish my tour with a mention of the little word "fob." When I began my legal career at Stoel Rives in 2000, I was asked if I wanted either a magnetic "fob" or a "card" to open the door to the suite of offices on Floor 22. The "fob" was a small (about 1" X 1") square plastic item attached to a key, while the "card" was of rectanglular shape, about 3" X 4" in size, with no key attached. I chose the fob because of the word "fob." Before getting into the way "fob" is used in the language of fraud, then, I want to take a detour from my big detour to tell you about this kind of "fob."
First attested in a similar way in 1653, a fob is "a small pocket formerly made in the waistband of the breeches and used for carrying a watch, money, or other valuables." Connecting the idea of "fob" and "cheated/defrauded" is the first attestation: "My Fob has been fubd to day of six pieces." Addison uses the word in 1711: "I saw him...squirt away his watch..into the Thames, and put up the Pebble, he had before found, in his Fob." But the word could be extended to refer to what is placed in this easily-accessible pocket, as a "fob-watch" or, more specifically, to the chain that was affixed to the pocket which was also attached to a watch. Thus in a slang dictionary from 1893 a "Fob" is defined as "a watch chain or ribbon, with buckle and seals, worn hanging from the fob." So, the pocket, the chain, the watch...all could be referred to as a "fob." Now I am understanding why my little square metallic card, connected to a key, was called a "fob." I think it the reasoning was as follows. Because men don't in general, have fob pockets anymore, possibly the notion of something being "chain-like" that can be tucked into a waistband or which needs to be easily accessible (because you are always needing to deactivate the locked door) can be called a "fob." I never went through this line of logic with the staff members of the firm in figuring out why it was called a "fob." Suffice it to say that I was dismissed long before that time--principally because I seemed to take too many detours in my thinking. I was commended in one of my reviews, however, for being able to find interesting material from quite obscure sources.
But the use of fob as a trick or artifice or to deceive or cheat antedates its use referring to a waistband pocket. The oldest attestation of the noun, from 1393, makes a "fob" equivalent to a "faitour," and thus connotes a cheat or impostor. By the early 17th century the noun meant a "trick" or "artifice," as in the 1622 quotation: "Many men would deale more honestly...if these fobs and giggs were not put into their heads by others."
Yet Another Branch--Gigg
Oops. The previous quotation introduced gigg, apparently meaning "trick," which was new to me. I was interested to see that the OED only has a few references to gigg, in various articles on gig (with meanings running all the way from a whirling top to a jazz performance venue--"He had a gig in Portland for the weekend."). But you have to go through the uses of gigg carefully to see it support an understanding as "trick." Let's try to unpack this a little bit. The original meaning of gig was a whirling top, and is preserved in the word "whirligig." Jeremy Taylor, the Anglican priest, used it figuratively in 1630: "For hee's the gigge of time, Whom sharpest wits have whipt with sportful rime." You get the impression that gigg could be a person who is what we might call the "life of the party." We are getting closer to the meaning of gigg as a trick when we run into a 1621 quotation: "A great help...for bringing in of larks about your net, is a gigg of feathers...which twirleth swiftly round on the least breath of wind." A sort of reverse-scarecrow for larks, which apparently is attracted when it sees the gigg (twirling band) of feathers. A gigg could also be a "fancy, joke, whim," such as in the 17th century quotation: "Any idle tale, or gigge of a geering, gibing wit." Thus, we understand the sole attestation of gigg referring to something deceptive in 1795: "Gigg'd by their neighbours, gull'd of all their cash." Thus, we can understand gigg as trick or deception.
I can't help mentioning, however, before returning to fob, the word sheela-na-gig (or gigg) which I ran across while searching for gigg. A sheela-na-gig, first attested in that spelling in 1846, is a "medieval carved stone female figure sometimes found on churches or castles in Britain and Ireland." But, what in fact is a sheela-na-gig? Well, a 1934 quotation from a respected anthropological journal removes all ambiguity:
"The more modern examples..are known as the Sheila-na-gig. These are always nude and are represented in the frontal aspect, the legs usually wide apart, and the hands so posed as to call attention to the genitalia."
On an English or Irish church? Apparently we have examples from Blackhall Castle and on the corbel of a church in Kilpeck. Well, I will leave Sheila or Sheela or whoever she is, on her castles and corbels and return to fobbing.
Fobbing, Fobbing out of, in, off on, etc.
We left our consideration of fob above as something of a trick or artifice. I was also interested to see that from the 17th century was the noun usage of fob in relation to law. A "fob action" at law was a sham action. "Endeavoring to steal a young lady..by the help of bailifs, who arrested her..in a fob action." This notion of fob, then, as trick or artifice or deception informs its use in a verbal form. The next (and I promise the last) essay in this series continues this journey.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long