The Grammarphobia Blog

Artsy-fartsy

Q: I’m an artist and I always cringe when I hear people describe something as “artsy.” The word seems to carry a denigrating tone that suggests to pretend to be artistic. Is this true? If one used “arty” instead wouldn’t that imply something neutral or positive?

A: The word “artsy” had its origin in 1902 as part of the phrase “Artsy-Craftsy,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. (The expression was originally capitalized because it was a reference to the Arts and Crafts Movement.)

Soon “artsy-craftsy” (and later “artsy” by itself) became a generic term for something artistic in a self-conscious or pretentious way. The variation “artsy-fartsy” was first recorded in 1971, according to the OED.

The word “arty” can mean either (1) “of or relating to artists or the fine arts,” which would be neutral, or (2) “artsy,” which is “showy or affectedly artistic,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.)

To be on the safe side, maybe you should stick to “artistic.”

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