F is for faggot

The sixth letter

No, no, no, no. Not that meaning for the word faggot. We don’t use that kind of language around The Legal Genealogist, not even in jest.

No, it’s this meaning for the word faggot. The kind shown in the picture. The kind you’d use if, say, you were planning on burning somebody at the stake.

Or, perhaps, the kind you’d use if you were an English heretic who was trying to avoid being burned at the stake: a “badge worn in popish times by persons who had recanted and abjured what was then adjudged to be heresy, as an emblem of what they had merited.”1

Because, you see, the letter F — like the earlier letters of the alphabet2 — gives us lots of examples of ordinary words that, in legal usage, don’t mean anything like what we might think they do.

So let’s all get out our own personal word-searchable Black’s Law Dictionary on CD and take it away through the letter F (which is, by the way, a “letter … branded upon felons upon their being admitted to clergy; as also upon those convicted of fights or frays, or of falsity”3):

     • Fabric lands don’t have anything to do with textiles. Instead, in English law, they were “lands given towards the maintenance, re-building, or repairing of cathedral and other churches.”4

     • Facilities were not a place where you’d … um … potty-train your children. They were “certain notes of some of the banks in the state of Connecticut, which were made payable in two years after the close of the war of 1812.”5

     • A family meeting is not any kind of a reunion. It’s a formal legal proceeding under the laws of Louisiana (and other civil law jurisdictions) “being a council of the relatives (or, if there are no relatives, of the friends) of a minor, for the purpose of advising as to his affairs and the administration of his property. The family meeting is called by order of a judge, and presided over by a justice or notary, and must consist of at least five persons, who are put under oath.”6

     • Fanatics in the 19th century were a bit different from fanatics today. To the law then, they were “persons pretending to be inspired, and being a general name for Quakers, Anabaptists, and all other sectaries, and factious dissenters from the Church of England.”7

     • A farm isn’t a place where you grow crops and raise livestock. It’s a “certain amount of provision reserved as the rent of a messuage.”8

     • Fastermans weren’t either speedy or dieting males. They were “men in repute and substance; pledges, sureties, or bondsmen, who, according to the Saxon polity, were fast bound to answer for each other’s peaceable behavior.”9

     • A fee isn’t something you have to pay. It’s a “freehold estate in lands, held of a superior lord, as a reward for services, and on condition of rendering some service in return for it.”10

     • A fence isn’t something you put up around your garden to keep the deer out. In old Scotch law, it meant “to defend or protect by formalities” and so “to ‘fence a court’ was to open it in due form, and interdict all manner of persons from disturbing their proceedings.”11

     • You wouldn’t find a float in a parade and it’s not a word to describe something you’d do in a backyard pool. Instead, “in American land law, especially in the western states,” it was “a certificate authorizing the entry, by the holder, of a certain quantity of land.”12

     • Think a forest is simply a whole bunch of trees? Think again. In old English law, it was “a certain territory of wooded ground and fruitful pastures, privileged for wild beasts and fowls of forest, chase, and warren, to rest and abide in the safe protection of the prince for his princely delight and pleasure, having a peculiar court and officers.”13

     • A forfang isn’t something you’d find in your (or your dog’s) mouth. In old English law, it was “the taking of provisions from any person in fairs or “markets before the royal purveyors were served with necessaries for the sovereign” or the seizing and rescuing of stolen or strayed cattle from the hands of a thief, or of those having illegal possession of them” or “the reward fixed for such rescue.”14

     • A frank-marriage didn’t actually have a whole lot to do with marriage at all. It was, instead, a type of estate in land whereby land given in frank-marriage to a female relative and her husband would be theirs and then pass only to the children of the two of them together (and not to the child of one but not the other).15

     • A Frenchman, in early English law, wasn’t a native or resident of France. Instead, “this term was applied to every stranger or ‘outlandish’ man.”16

     • And a fur was most definitely not something you’d wear, even if PETA wasn’t on your case. It meant “a thief; one who stole secretly or without force or weapons, as opposed to robber.”17


 
SOURCES

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 471, “faggot.”
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “A is for alternative meanings,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Jul 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 26 Sep 2012). Also, ibid., “B is for borg,” posted 10 Aug 2012; “C is for camera,” posted 3 Sep 2012; “D is for durante,” posted 17 Sep 2012; “E is for Egyptians,” posted 27 Sep 2012.
  3. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 468, “F.” And if you don’t remember what it means to be admitted to clergy, check out Judy G. Russell, “Of crime and punishment in Oregon Territory,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Jul 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 26 Dec 2012).
  4. Ibid., 468, “fabric lands.”
  5. Ibid., 469, “facilities.”
  6. Ibid., 477, “family meeting.”
  7. Ibid., 477, “fanatics.”
  8. Ibid., 478, “farm.” Whattaya mean, what’s a messuage? Doesn’t everybody know what a messuage is? Let’s see here… Messuage… messuage. Oh yeah: it’s a dwelling-house. Ibid., 771, “messuage.”
  9. Ibid., 478, “fastermans.”
  10. Ibid., 481, “fee.”
  11. Ibid., 484, “fence.”
  12. Ibid., 499, “float.”
  13. Ibid., 507, “forest.”
  14. Ibid., 507, “forfang.”
  15. Ibid., 516, “frank-marriage.”
  16. Ibid., 521, “Frenchman.”
  17. Ibid., 526, “fur.”
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8 Responses to F is for faggot

  1. Rebekah Canada says:

    Judy,

    You did not include Fines and thus Feet of Fines. Feet of Fines are a great way to play Footsie with your English ancestors. :-)

    Best,
    Rebekah

  2. Celia Lewis says:

    I thought Messuage had the same root origin as mess-hall (as used by soldiers etc), but it seems to have a slightly different root. Where’s my linguistics son when I need him! Lovely group of F’s, Judy.

  3. Thanks for the lesson. I learned a lot today!

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