The Grammarphobia Blog

If you’re a fysigunkus, skip this!

Q: I recently came across “fysigunkus,” meaning a person devoid of all curiosity, in an old Scottish dictionary, but I found the etymology questionable. Can you elucidate?

A: You probably found that obsolete word in John Jamieson’s 1825 Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. (The word doesn’t appear in earlier editions of Jamieson’s etymological dictionary.)

Jamieson defines a “fysigunkus” as “a man devoid of curiosity.” He says it’s derived from several Gaelic terms, and originated in Perthshire, a county in central Scotland.

Here’s how Jamieson explains the etymology: “Gael, fosaigh-am signifies to know, Jiosrach inquisitive; and gunta, an experienced, skilful, prying man. But thus the term would have a sense directly the reverse.”

We suspect that “fysigunkus” (pronounced fizzy-GUNK-us, perhaps?) was rare, or at least had a very narrow geographical range, even in the 1800s.

It might even have died out by the end of the century. (Maybe the fact that it didn’t quite make sense in Gaelic contributed to its demise.)

However, “fysigunkus” does have an entry in Joseph Wright’s The English Dialect Dictionary (1900), defined as “a man devoid of curiosity.”

Wright credits Jamieson with recording the word, and with labeling it as a Perthshire usage, but he adds this note: “Not known to our correspondents.”

The word doesn’t appear at all in James Wilson’s Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Stratheran District of Perthshire (1915).

Today, “fysigunkus” doesn’t show up in the Oxford English Dictionary or in any standard dictionaries.

But it has shown a flicker of life on the Internet. A Google search for “fysigunkus” turns up a few hundred hits, mostly remarking on the word’s oddity.

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