Fong

“If you don’t stop jigacting I’ll give you a fong up the arse!”

These are words I heard many’s the time in my youth from the mouths of exasperated parents or uncles or aunts. Sometimes fong would be replaced by root.

“I’ll give you a root up the arse if you don’t cop on.”

Until I did a bit of research lately, I thought fong was confined to my hometown of Ennis, but according to slang.ie the term has been heard in Limerick and Cork as well. I had also always assumed that fong was a recently coined term — a kind of play or parody on martial art words like kung-fu or taekwondo — that somehow spread around Ennis, but if the term is so widespread in Ireland it suggests an older origin. I cannot, however, find any information on fong’s etymology beyond a tantalising mention in the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale. Produced, directed and written by Brian Helgeland, A Knight’s Tale is set in medieval England and, along with fictional characters, depicts historical figures like Edward the Black and Geoffrey Chaucer.

One of these characters, Watt, says to Chaucer, “I I will fong you until your insides are out, your outsides are in, your entrails will become your extrails, I will reek all the… un… pain. Lots of pain.” It is understood from the context of the dialog that fong means to kick and it is used another couple of times in the script. Could Helgeland have, in the course of his research, dug up an old medieval word — a word that is still in use in the south and west of Ireland? I’d love to believe so, but I’m not holding out too much hope: A Knight’s Tale has become notorious for historical inaccuracies and the use of modern slang like wow peppers the dialog. Were fong an example of the scriptwriter’s meticulous research and desire to inject linguistic accuracy into the film it would apparently find itself in scarce company.

My search for the origins of fong continues, as indeed does that for root, where it’s meaning is to kick. And, by the way, be careful about putting “root up the arse” into Google!!

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About ucronin

Born in the country town of Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland in 1975, I now live in Madrid with my partner and two young daughters and work in a research institute. While I was always a hungry reader and harboured vague notions of being a writer, as a young man writing was the furthest thing from my mind; after leaving school, I did a B.Sc. in Biotechnology in Galway's NUI, an M.Sc. in Plant Science in University College Cork and a Ph.D. in Microbiology in the University of Limerick, the plan being to dedicate my professional career to scientific research. While having written extensively within my technical scientific field, I had never contemplated becoming a writer of fiction until a road-to-Damascus moment on the N69 between Listowel and Tarbert, Co. Kerry in the summer of 2011. Since then, most of my spare time has been occupied with writing. In whatever other free moments I have, I like to listen to music, play the guitar and garden (which here in Madrid means a lot of watering of plants and spraying for red spider mite). My ambition is to become as good a writer as I possibly can, eventually freeing myself from the cold clutches of science and earning a living through my scribblings. The type of writing that excites me is honest, intelligent, well-constructed and richly descriptive.
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4 Responses to Fong

  1. Stan says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard this word. A root up the behind, sure, but not a fong. Bernard Share’s colloquial Irish dictionary Slanguage defines it as a blow or a kick, and offers this line from a Tom Murphy play: “Hugo got him a right fong up the arse as he was running out the passageway.” Share says its etymology is unknown, but Jonathon Green (in Chambers Slang Dictionary) suggests an echoic origin. Fffonnggg!!

    There’s also an archaic/dialectal verb fang, meaning seize, catch, receive, take, etc., with fong as a variant form. I don’t think it’s related to your fong, but it does mean there are amusing citations in the OED like: “Straught unto Kaire his wey he fongeth” (John Gower, Confessio Amantis, 1393).

    • ucronin says:

      Thanks for that. At least after my bit of poking around and your erudite contribution I know that fong wasn’t just an Ennis word. I’ll do my best to pass it onto my girls!

    • Steve says:

      Yep – fangen is German for catch. Every kid knows the playground taunt “fang mich doch du eierloch!” Fong was indeed heard around West Limerick in my day, a “fong up the hole” being particularly popular. Its a kind of a sister-word (in my mind anyway) to firk, meaning to throw in a careless and perhaps dismissive or violent manner.

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