And your little dog too
Another growl over the breakfast coffee and newspaper, this one over the discovery of the non-word fiesty in The Sun. What was meant, of course, was feisty. This error — not the first occurrence of its kind — is something that could be headed off if reporters would humble themselves to use the spell-check function.
The word feisty was once prohibited for use in The Sun by an editor who found it obnoxious. He said that it came from the German for a “small farting dog,” and, indeed, a look at references discovers that the word has affinities with the American feist or fice, small dog. Going back further, we find fysting cur, “stinking cur” from the Middle English fysten or fisten, “to break wind,” and the Danish fise for, as you might have guessed by now, “to fart.”
Rejecting the word on that ground may be taking etymology a bit too far, but I think there may be another reason to shy away from it. In some contexts, we are invited to take feisty to mean spirited or spunky. (We have sadly lost the fine old word doughty.) The local activist spearheading the fight against the new Wal-Mart or interstate interchange will almost invariably be described as feisty, especially if he or she is given to colorful, even earthy, language. Then salty comes into play.
But we may also be invited to see feisty as a euphemism for crackpot. Some of you may recollect feisty old Harry Truman, the octogenarian with all the cats who adamantly refused to leave his house below Mount St. Helens. Feisty he was, and feisty he was called, right up to and beyond the point at which his house, his cats and his person were obliterated by a storm of volcanic gases, ash and mud.
In my obituary, cranky will suffice.