Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Farb Linguist

Languagehat has a post up about a pretty bad article about language use and abuse on the Internet. While he lets Language Log tear into the article's worst excesses, Languagehat looks at the mention of several new words the article's author worries are poised to move from slang/jargon usage into dictionaries (quoting the same part of the article Languagehat does):
That's where [Oxford lexicographer Erin] McKean has found words like farb (not authentic, badly done), nomenklatura (non-literally; by analogy), drabble (a short story of 100 words or fewer), haxie (a hack for the Macintosh operating system) and swancho (a combination poncho/sweater).
The bit that caught Languagehat's eye was nomenklatura (номенклатура), but farb is the one that jumps out at me.

I first encountered farb in the late 1990s in Confederates in the Attic (excerpt):
"Farb" was the worst insult in the hardcore vocabulary. It referred to reenactors who approached the past with a lack of verisimilitude. The word's etymology was obscure; Young guessed that "farb" was short for "far-be-it-from-authentic," or possibly a respelling of "barf." Violations serious enough to earn the slur included wearing a wristwatch, smoking cigarettes, smearing oneself with sunblock or insect repellent—or, worst of all, fake blood. Farb was also a fungible word; it could become an adjective (farby), a verb (as in, "don't farb out on me"), an adverb (farbily) and a heretical school of thought (Farbism or Farbiness).
I remember at the time picking the word up and using it here and there, but I didn't realize it had caught on among a broader audience than Civil War reënactors. Well, googling the word (and filtering out the German-language pages), it doesn't seem to have spread very far. However, there are a few pages that go a bit into the word's origin beyond the guesses in Confederates.

World Wide Words notes that while the term seems to remain limited to military reënactors, it is spreading beyond the Civil War (and other U.S. reënactor) crews. He also points to an article that outlines the origin of the word, which is attested to 1961 and its etymology is suspected to have come from the German Farbe (color) in reference to uniforms that weren't the proper shade of blue or grey.

As to whether or not the term is gaining currency beyond reënactors or not, Erin McKean, the Oxford lexicographer from the bad article, said in a Q&A with A.Word.A.Day that farb is a "good example of a word on the brink."
I don't know if farb will spread from re-enactors! But I'm willing to be it will. It means "not authentic, badly done" or someone who is inauthentic in their re-enacting. Fun word, huh?
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