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Q From Carolyn Lea: Why is fog so called?

A Fog is one of that large number of words whose origins are obscure. Its first use had nothing to do with mist or water, but was the name given to the new grass which grows up in a field after it has been cut for hay, or the long grass which is left standing in the field over winter. (There are various grasses even now with that element in their names, such as Yorkshire fog). In Scotland and the north, it could also mean moss, and hence a marsh or bog. The next step was to create the adjective foggy for places overgrown with long grass, or a place that was marshy or boggy. Somehow, we don’t know exactly how, that word was also taken to mean the state of being thick or murky, as of the mist or vapours that arose from such places. Perhaps it was a reference to the heavy dew of a morning on long grass, which from a distance can look like a layer of mist. It seems that a new sense of the noun fog developed from this with the modern meaning. Some writers have suggested that the Danish fog, “spray; shower”, may be connected, or possibly even be the origin. It’s all rather mysterious.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Dec. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-fog1.htm
Last modified: 5 December 1998.