So how is it that one little four-letter word can be used in all these ways?
Ramon was fast asleep.
Irene’s car is fast.
Selma broke her fast.
Luigi held fast to Wanda’s hand.
Agatha indulged in fast living.
And how is the word shamefaced possibly related?
It all started with the Proto-Indo-European word fasto, which meant firmly, strongly, very.
This word made its way into Old English as faeste, which meant firmly, securely, strictly.
When fasto made its way into Old Norse, it became fast, meaning firmly, strongly, vigorously.
The speedy meaning of fast most likely came from the vigorous sense of fast in Old Norse, though it may have come from the idea of the second-place runner holding fast to the runner before him/her. During the 1700s, this meaning of fast gave birth to the idea of fast living.
The meaning, withholding food, comes from an Old English word born of the hold firmly meaning. Someone who fasts shows firm control of him/herself.
The hold tight meaning of fast grew from the firmly/securely meaning, as did the idea of being fast asleep.
And shamefaced? This word was originally pronounced & spelled shamefast, reflecting the idea that one’s shame was stuck fast. Our modern word shamefaced came from a misunderstanding of the the original word.
Any thoughts about all this fastness? Please leave them in the comments section.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, & Wordnik.com.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.