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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2011-07-10 18:27:46

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2265

faker << fakir

This forum has not yet noted one of the golden oldies (cue schmaltzy theremin music ) of semantic substitution, the confusion between “fakir” and “faker.”

“Fakir” is an Arabic term. It originally referred to a Sufi holy man, a mendicant teacher of Islam. In modern times it has been generalized to include Hindus. The English term is often used to refer to any south Asian (i.e. a person from India or Pakistan) holy person who has some special power. The typical picture generated in Western minds by the word “fakir” is someone who charms cobras or lies on a bed of nails while living in a marketplace and begging alms. Easy enough to see how the thought of “faker” might intrude itself.

The word’s English career peaked in the early years of the twentieth century.

Undoubtedly some of the substitutions are puns.


Political discussion board: “Under the fig-leaf of Socialism they supported the World War, the Versailles Treaty, the Dawes and Young Plans, the Kellogg Pact, the Chinese butcher, Chang Kai Shek, and the Indian faker, Gandhi.”

Religion forum: “A few weeks ago we seen on the God Box another Indian Faker swallowing live scorpions and pukeing them back up.”

Car forum: “Christ supposedly cured the lame and they cast down their crutches and they crawled off as serpents. The latter is an old East Indian faker trick.”

Home site of social thought nonprofit group: “When I was in a mainline seminary in New York in the mid 1970s, the ecumenical Thursday night service was led by Hilda the White Witch, who was introduced by the bishop of New York. The Indian faker Sri Chinmoy, who claimed to be able to levitate, gave the Easter service,”

Creation/evolution thread in science forum: “If you want an Indian faker to do the rope trick or Bijou Magician saw a woman in half… be my guest. Just don’t kid yourself that it was a ‘miracle’.”



#2 2011-07-10 18:56:06

From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: faker << fakir

Mark Liberman has an interesting early Language Log post on this in which he suggests that the change in meaning of “fakir” to “faker” may have been driven by the American spiritualism craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The post is here: … 01115.html



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