Fazed by a phaser fire under the waning phase of the fourth moon,
the Vulcan remained unfazed.

Blame it on Star Trek. We Americans have had trouble with this word ever since we began to colonize the British back in the ‘60’s and our confusion is growing at an alarming rate. Faze means to disconcert or alarm. The inflected forms are fazed, fazing, and fazes. Today faze is the most frequently used spelling, and the verb is typically used in the negative as in: The explosion didn’t seem to faze him at all.

It might be surprising to many Americans that this is not a leftover colloquialism from the 30’s or 40’s. As a matter of fact "faze" isn't in any slang dictionaries because it isn't slang. The OED says it first materialized in its existing form in 1890 as a former variety of feeze and that the term goes all the way back to the 9th century when it was derived from fesian or fysian-- an Old English term meaning " to drive off, put to flight, or frighten away." By 1830 this form of feeze appeared as faze in American English as a spelling variant The first publication date for the "faze" spelling goes all the way back to the 1890’s when The Columbus Dispatch of Ohio said: "This blow, altho a fearful one, did not faze me."

Even so the older spelling feeze has been around for quite a while. It’s in Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) for instance where it is labeled as “to be in a state of excitement”. Still some eighty years later Edgar Rice Burroughs uses the older term in his 1921 novel The Mucker even though by this time the faze spelling was standard:

Battling Dago Pete landed a few more before the fight was over, but as any old fighter will tell you there is nothing more discouraging than to discover that your most effective blows do not feeze your opponent, and only the knowledge of what a defeat at the hands of a new sparring partner would mean to his future, kept him plugging away at the hopeless task of attempting to knock out this mountain of bone and muscle.

Thrown for a loop

While to faze someone is to disturb them, a phase is a developmental stage, a passing pattern, a regularly recurring appearance, a step in a cyclic progression and so on. It is both a noun and a verb and comes from Greek, which is where English gets the ph with the sound of f. So many may wonder why was Mark Twain writing in his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.,”His spirit -- why, it wasn't even phased” in 1889 and in the same year the author of a November article in the Westminster Gazette noted, “ It don't seem to 'phase' him in the very slightest. “? Michael Quinion from World Wide Words offers a theory, “ It’s tempting to blame Star Trek and its phaser pistols, but it’s more likely that it has changed in imitation of common expressions such as to phase out or phased withdrawal. The historical record shows, however, that it was often spelled as pheese. Bartlett has it as a variant form in his dictionary and Shakespeare used that spelling several times. There is dialect evidence in Britain that it was sometimes spelled as phaze. So... writer(s), and anybody else who spells it phase, have some useful antecedents on their side.” Apparently writers have been going through phases about fazes from the beginning.


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Topical Words: Faze:

Faze (?), v. t.

See Feeze.


© Webster 1913.

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