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Feller, fella, fellow

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Wordsmyth, Sep 30, 2008.

  1. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    This post is from another thread, but on a different subject. So, to avoid being off-topic, I've started this new thread to add my comment.

    (There are other threads concerning "fella", but only in the Forums for French, Spanish, etc)


    Hi Nicole, and welcome to the Forums.

    Just to round off your explanation, let's not forget that "feller" and "fella" are derivatives (essentially representing different pronunciations) of "fellow".

    See http://www.wordreference.com/definition/fellow , for a big range of definitions and usage (and WR threads involving "fellow"). Definitions 3 & 4 also show that "fellow" is not limited to males.

    W:)
     
  2. languageGuy Senior Member

    Kansas City, MO
    USA and English
    Interesting, wordsmyth.

    Certainly 'fellow' is not limited to males, but don't you think that 'feller' and 'fella' are? Who would use Definitions 3 & 4 and pronounce it any other way than 'fellow?'
     
  3. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    Fellow comes from late OE feolaga, derived from feoh + *lag, meaning one who lays down money in a joint enterprise.

    But there is also fellah, which is a (mainly Egyptian) Arabic word meaning a peasant.

    In my experience they are now used interchangeably in BrE, as a colloquialism for "man" and a synonym for "chap" (also BrE) and "guy" (still mainly AmE).
     
  4. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Absolutely, LG. Female fellows but no female fellas. Unless of course, 'fellas' evolves as 'guys' has (in the plural anyway), to include both sexes.

    W:)
     
  5. kitenok Senior Member

    This reminded me of an old Abbott and Costello comedy routine about the pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, Bob Feller. Lou Costello is going to a Cleveland Indians baseball game.
    Bud Abbott asks him: Feller pitching?
    Costello: Certainly there's a feller pitching... what do you think they'd use a girl?
    Abbott: Oh, I…I know they don’t use a girl… I said, "Feller pitching…"
    Costello: What feller?
    And so on and so forth. You can read the whole thing here.

    Incidentally, Abbott and Costello, who built a routine around the pronunciation "feller," were not from the southern US. They were from New Jersey. I would say this pronunciation is considered substandard, but I don't think it is particularly southern.
     
  6. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)

    So, Kevin, if two Egyptian peasants club together to buy a bit of land, I guess they're 'fella fellas' :D.

    But seriously, this is interesting. I wonder, particularly for BrE, how much the present-day usage owes to late OE (and the continued use of "fellow" since then) and how much to the completely different Egyptian origin (imported, I guess, only since the 19th century, along with numerous pots, sarcophagi and Cleopatran needles). I'll probably have to go on wondering, unless someone with some in-depth etymological knowledge gets back on this.

    W:)
     
  7. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    I like it! :thumbsup:

    Thinking it through, I suspect that the OE version led to "Fellows" of colleges and learned institutions, whereas the Arabic version became the (originally slightly insulting) colloquialism.
     
  8. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    I assume that 'feller' occurs wherever accents have intrusive R and 'fella' occurs wherever they don't. I'd expect it to vary by social class as well as region, and I don't think it's distinctively Southern either.
     
  9. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Kitenok, your Abbott and Costello story reminds me of the one about the two **** lumberjacks looking at job ads. "Ideal for us", says one, pointing at an ad: 'Tree fellers wanted'. "No good" says his friend, "Dere's only two of us!"

    (**** insert any group whose accent makes 'th' sound like 't'). I'm not going to risk treading on toes by choosing any particular one!:cool:

    W:)
     
  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't think you need to postulate an Arabic influence; the second vowel in similar words such as "yellow" or "follow" can also - informally - become schwa in many varieties of English;)
     
  11. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    Well, the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (OUP 1986) gives entries for both fellow and fellah and explains them in the way that I plagiarised reported.
     
  12. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I suspect it might be less simple than that. I'm thinking of "fellow" in Shakespearian usage, e.g "But first I'll turn yon fellow in his grave" (Richard III, Act 1, Sc.2), which surely predated the Arabic influence, yet had already taken the sense of 'man/chap/guy'. Also the AmE use of 'fella/feller' probably wasn't much influenced by the Arabic source.

    On the other hand, re Loob's
    I don't doubt for one minute that the Arabic "fellah" is a 'co-source', (a) because the Concise Oxford says so, (b) because dozens of other Arabic and Indian words came into BrE usage during the (hrmm) 'colonial' era.

    My guess is that present-day usage (meaning 'man') is a fusion of the two separate origins.

    W:)
     
  13. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Ummm... the first OED citation of "fellow" with the meaning "man/male person" is from c1440:D
     
  14. paintedhouse113 Junior Member

    English - USA
    Fella is perhaps a phonetic spelling if that is of any interest; certain southern accents' short 'o' sometimes becomes a neutral vowel in unstressed syllables, such as in window and yellow.
     
  15. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    That's the second outing for that particular joke I just happen to have read this week, Wordsmyth:)
     
  16. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    I suspect it's more that for non-rhotic speakers "feller" and "fella" sound the same and so the "feller" form is used to represent the sound of the word since so many more words ending with the sound "uh" for those speakers are spelt ending in "er" rather than "a".

    It's not unusual in some regions to replace final "ow" with "er" - "yellow"/"yeller" "window"/"winder" etc. Perhaps because words ending in "ow" are themselves so small in number compared to those ending in "er".

    Edit - just read paintedhouse's comment saying a similar thing. Yes - in London accents too.
     
  17. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I've heard that leveling of final unstressed vowels was common in the old Appalachian and Ozark hill dialects, and it happens to a limited degree in rural areas all over the Midsouth. What is most interesting is that speakers differ on how they pronounce that leveled vowel. Depending on the speaker, it can be oh, uh, er, ih, or ee.

    My father pronounced Missouri, ravioli, program, fellow, and yellow with the uh final vowel. My third cousin once removed (older) did the same thing and also pronounced purer and elder with the uh final vowel. His father was from Mississippi.

    My Oklahoma relatives, including my father's uncle, pronounced these words (except for program) with the er final vowel. The way they pronounce feller (fellow) in the movie Oklahoma sounds authentic enough to me.
     
  18. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    OK Loob, that ties in with Shakespeare — he was after 1440 ;)

    Just to be clear about what I meant by "fusion", my theory would go like this:

    "Fellow" (from OE feolaga) takes "male person" as one of its meanings sometime before 1440, and that stays until the present day (meanwhile also crossing the Atlantic), and is sometimes pronounced "fella" for all the reasons given in this thread. Then, independently, (~19th century?) English-speakers in Egypt and other points east adopt "fellah" (perhaps initially to mean "lowly person"). By similarity, this use and the use of "fellow" pronounced as "fella" fuse into one. Hence my use of the term 'co-source'.

    All this is pure speculation on my part (I don't have the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology to hand) — and I stand ready to be corrected by anyone who knows better :cool::)

    W:)
     
  19. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi W

    It's just that I don't think that "fellow" (plural "fellows") and Arabic "fellah" (plural "fellahin") have 'fused into one':(
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2008
  20. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    The CODEE shows both words as separate entries and doesn't attempt to link them.

    I doubt that many Anglophones would consider the different plural forms before deciding which to use in the singular. I can imagine British imperialists (that's a description, not a political statement), being familiar with "fellow" at home, encountering "fellah" in Arab-speaking British colonies and marking the similarity.

    But I can also imagine some accents in the southern USA rendering the "-ow" as "-ah" or "-uh".

    Perhaps it's one of those occasional coincidences of language, that similar words from two completely different sources have come to mean virtually the same thing in common use.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2008
  21. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    I'm not sure how relevant (if at all) this might be, but I do seem to recall that when I used to read my sister's Jackie magazine (c.1974), young boys were routinely referred to as fellahs.
     
  22. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Thanks Kevin,

    I was wondering what to say next, and you did it for me. I couldn't have summed it up better.

    W:)
     
  23. Nicole9z New Member

    English (U.S.)
    Wordsmyth, I truly appreciate the insight on this word. I had forgotten the idea of women as fellows, such as fellow classmates. However, I am confused about how I would simply refer to a woman as a fellow...I cannot in a million years imagine myself saying "Hey fellow!" to a female friend. ??
     
  24. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    "She is a fellow at [name of institution]."

    I would not say "Hey fellow" to much of anyone, male or female.
     
  25. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Jerusalem
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    A friend of mine is a fellow in Infectious Medicine at a large teaching hospital. She jokingly refers to herself as "a gal" in Infectious Medicine.

    Why is this funny? I think because while a "fellow" of a college or a faculty may be female today, it still jars the ear because of the clear masculine sense of the word.

    There might be something similar in "male nurse", "lady mailman" and simliar expressions.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2008
  26. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Nor would I, Franzi. Though it's not all that unusual to hear British chaps addressing one another as fella ("How's it going, fella?")

    (I probably shouldn't mention this but ... it's not all that unusual to hear British chaps refer to a certain part of their anatomy as me old fella ... )
     
  27. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    "Hey, fellow forum member Nicole" :p

    Well, it's true that I wouldn't address a FRAeS (Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society) or FIMechE (Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers), whether female or male, by saying "Hey fellow!"

    But I might well say to a female fellow traveller (if I were feeling particularly theatrical that day), "Hello, fellow traveller".

    ... Or to a woman with a streaming cold as bad as mine (if I had one), "Heddo feddow sufferer":D

    W:)
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2008
  28. wy8928 Junior Member

    San Francisco, CA
    English (U.S.A.)
    As a comment on usage, one would be more in rhythm by simply saying 'Hi/Hey guys' instead of 'Hi fellers' at least in northern California. 'Hi fellers' without a vocal reference gives the impression of a jeer. It connotes an uneducated register.

    Cheers!
     
  29. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    The pronunciation of "fellow" as "feller" in certain American accents is hardly a unique change of that sound. All one has to do is to think of the book, and later the movie, about an aging yellow dog: Old Yeller. I will also point out that there are more than a few working-class accents in the US (including the one I grew up hearing) that would pronounce a word spelled "feller" as fella. I have heard "fella" (as in "some fella came by yesterday and said he was your cousin", or the Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella) my whole life, and I have always understood it to be a variant of fellow, the careful and "correct" pronunciation of which was considered to be a little precious, and a bit of an affectation along the lines of putting one's flowers in a container that one called a vahz instead of a vayz. I am quite certain that as far as American English is concerned, there is no relation of the word "fella" to anything other than "fellow".
     
  30. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    Isn't it common for -o and -ow endings to be pronounced as -uh or -ah in AmE, particularly in the southern states?
     
  31. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    If the word is common, ends in an unstressed long o, and is not seen as a foreign word, it is common to pronounce the o as -uh. Fellow is a perfect example.

    I have never heard long o pronounced as -ah, except inasmuch as -ah might also be pronounced -uh.
     
  32. daffodiltulip Junior Member

    English
    The word fellow can only refer to a woman if it is used as the term for a member of an academic society.
    It can also be the "other half" of something, for example, a bedfellow, or one of a pair can be referred to as the fellow of the other.
     

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