Wednesday, 29 May 2013

footling and halibut

Quite hopeless. He has lost his grip completely. Only a couple of days ago I was compelled to take him off a case because his handling of it was so footling.
- PG Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves
footling is "driveling, blithering", from footle "to talk or act foolishly". This is possibly a variant of foutre, which the OED declines to translate, perhaps because French foutre is something of a taboo word. It's from Latin futuere "to have vaginal intercouse", possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bheh₂u- "to hit".

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots says the Germanic extended form *ƀaut- became *butt-, a name for a flatfish. This became English butt "flatfish, turbot" and halibut - ie holy butt, so named because it was eaten on holy days.

How a word meaning "hit" came to be used for a fish is unclear.

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