Advent Calendar 14 – “The almost family”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to day 14 of our Advent Calendar. And those of you who love etymology will love today’s topic as we’ll take a quick look at the family of to fast.
Because that’s actually pretty crazy.
Here’s an overview:

  1. fast – capable of  high speed.
  2. fast asleep – NOT about falling asleep fast but about  sleeping firmly.
  3. to fast  – not eating.
  4. to fasten making tight, your seatbelt on an airplane for instance
  5. fast (German) –  almost.

That’s quite an epic scope of meanings, right? Hard to believe that they’re all connected but they actually are.

The origin of all of them is the super mega hyper ancient Indo-European root *past-, which carried the idea of “firm, solid”.
That is pretty much still the core of the verb to fasten. You make your seatbelt firm, if you will.
It also helps with the phrase fast asleep. You’re firmly sleeping.
And it can even help with to fast in the sense of not eating. You see, back many centuries, the verb to fast was much more general and meant something like “holding, guarding”, which does tie in with the original core idea of solid, tight, firm.
People would use this verb also in a context of self control, “fastening yourself “so to speak,  and since religion and its customs was a central part of people’s lives back then, it makes sense that the verb eventually narrowed to the context of … well.. religious not eating.
Tadah… so far everything surprisingly makes sense.
But what about the last two?

Well, the speed-fast is actually also not all that crazy. The old Vikings had their own version of the word which they’d use in a sense of vigorously, which is not that far from firmly.  You could fight fast but also drink fast and I think you can already see the connection now. You can’t really drink slowly but with vigor. English picked up this Norse version of fast and eventually made it the number one word for speed.

That leaves us with the German fast which means almost. Is this where we finally get the crazy mind bending we all love so much :)?
Nope.
About 500 years ago, fast was being used to reinforce statements; so basically with the sense of very. And that fits fine with the original idea of firmly, strongly.  But then people started using it  in a sense of very close to. I mean… why not, right?
Hey, don’t get mad at me… I’m just saying what it said in the etymological dictionary.
Seriously though. Maybe there is a deeper logic to this change but I wasn’t able to find it. If you have an idea, let me know in the comments.
And that’s it, this was our quick look at the family of fast. Seems to be all over the place but it’s firmly held together by a common core :).

5 3 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
13 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
3 years ago

Ab Heute
2018 14.12. Deutsches Wort des Jahres :

Heißzeit

Spellckr schlägt ALARM!!!!!

Wort des Jahres: Ausgewählte Wörter 2000 bis 2017

2017: Jamaika-Aus
2016: postfaktisch
2015: Flüchtlinge
2014: Lichtgrenze
2013: Groko
2012: Rettungsroutine
2011: Stresstest
2010: Wutbürger
2009: Abwrackprämie
2008: Finanzkrise
2007: Klimakatastrophe
2006: Fanmeile
2005: Bundeskanzlerin
2004: Hartz IV
2003: das alte Europa
2002: Teuro
2001: der 11. September
2000: Schwarzgeldaffäre

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
3 years ago

Click Watch this video link on You Tube link and video will play

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
3 years ago

“Beinah”

Pur
Du warst das eine Gesicht in der Menge
Das mich zum Innehalten zwang
Ein Blick wie ein Blitz
Durch all das Gedränge
So fing das alles damals an
Beinah, fast, fast
Beinah hätt’ ich dich verpasst
[…]

Und jetzt dies–

Lied ist FAST neu..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ux33b4G8ffg

Elsa
Elsa
3 years ago

*keeping, not kepping

Ubungmachtdenmeister
Ubungmachtdenmeister
3 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Jemand schläft tief ein? It’s just a guess, fast asleep, deep sleep seem Kinda similar.

Elsa
Elsa
3 years ago

Hi,
Thanks for holding fast and kepping coming up with new ideas for this Advent Calendar (I’m sure it’s difficult to write a post every single day)!
How do you actually say “fast asleep” in German? I looked up the German translation on Google and it came out as “schnell einschlafen”, which sounds soooo wrong… But maybe it isn’t, you never know with languages…
Bis morgen!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago

Schnell (fast as in: at a high speed, swift, quick) means “nice” auf Schwedish. Deutsch “nett” = Schwedisch “snäll”. Japp – very often when I want to say someone is “nice” in German, I automatically start saying that “Er/sie ist SCHNELL”, only to realize that Schnell means “FAST” and not “nice”.

Language: yet another way to embarrass oneself in crowded rooms.

Elsa
Elsa
3 years ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

Does that mean you’re Swedish? I thought you were American! Just goes to show German isn’t the only language you speak really well!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Elsa, (ADORE that name, by the way!) I am American. Half Italian, half Ukrainian Jewess. I know, right! Live in Sweden since longer than I care to admit, since I only turn 29 every year…

And I do NOT speak German really well. Not YET… dunn dunn DUNN dunn!