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From David Donnell:

"Not for nothin'," as the native NY'ers say, but I saw this commercial on the idiot-box tonight and was tickled by the play on words. Surprised to google and discover "half-fast" has been around for some time. But the TV ad still makes me laugh!


  1. Karl Weber said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 3:53 am

    A joke I recall seeing back in my boyhood over 30 years ago advised, "Don't start vast projects based on half-vast ideas."

  2. AKMA said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 6:12 am

    Once upon a time I was told that when the Rolling Stones covered Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now," Jagger took Womack's lyric "She spent all my money, playing her high class game" and sang "She spent all my money, playing her half-assed game" — and when queried by one broadcasting censorship nanny or another, he explained it as "her high fast game."

    But that's years of sem-ireliable memory reporting third- or fourth-hand knowledge.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 6:26 am

    I used to have a colleague named Wilhelm Halbfass, who was a distinguished scholar of Indian philosophy. The surname means "half barrel".

  4. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    It's still baffling to me that half-assed would merit bowdlerisation in the first place. I wonder if half-cocked would?

  5. Jeff Carney said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    Ben's Father: Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.
    Ben: No, it's not. It's completely baked.

  6. BlueLoom said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 8:00 am

    @Ginger Yellow:

    I've always assumed that "half-cocked" referred to some kind of gun that was not (yet) fully cocked. Your comment has opened whole new vistas of meaning for me.

  7. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    Oh, I'm sure that is the derivation. I just find it an amusing contrast between a seemingly innocuous but in practice censored/bowdlerised term and an overtly rude but in practice innocuous and uncensored term, which have fairly similar meanings.

  8. Stan Carey said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 8:35 am

    It's only a matter of time before this phrase is reduplicated for emphasis, if only in a half-assed-ass fashion.

  9. bill. said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 8:53 am

    Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing. — Ron Swanson

  10. Nancy Friedman said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 9:00 am

    Half-fast is how I do Yom Kippur.

  11. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 9:40 am

    "If you don't like your job, you don't strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American Way." — Homer Simpson. The internet tells me that the Simpsons episode this is from first aired in 1995, which is evidence that by then "half-assed" was no longer proscribed by the FCC, such that a Jagger-like "oh you're, um, um, misinterpreting what I said" excuse was no longer necessary to get it on the public airwaves. Obviously, some individual stations (or individual advertisers with particular brand images) might have more elaborate word-taboo standards than "whatever the FCC will currently let us get away with," and for all I know even Fox had/has *some* internal standards regarding things they wouldn't air even though they would not be likely to lead to regulatory trouble.

  12. Robert Coren said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    My high-school physics teacher was fond of this formation, and it was standard practice for him to say that he had a fast class, a slow class, and a half-fast class (which was always the one he was speaking to at the time). He once wrote the following comment on an apparently substandard lab report report of mine: "For fast physics (not half-fast ones), knowledge must be vast (not half-vast)."

    This was in 1962-63.

  13. Jacob said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 10:26 am

    Shades of "Ship My Pants"…


  14. Stephen Hart said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    All the versions on iTunes of the Stones doing It's All Over Now appear to be the same vocal track at least.
    After several listenings with earphones, I can't get "half assed." It all sounds like "hah fass" to me, in Jagger's famous American accent.
    It does not sound like "high class," though.

  15. Chuck said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    For you old Tolkien fans, Sam Gamgee had a cousin named Halfast Gamgee. I always perceived this pun. Fellowship of the Ring, 1954.

  16. maidhc said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

    Chuck: Samwise Gamgee is a pun too. "Sam" is an old English prefix meaning half. We still have it in "sand-blind", which was originally "samblind", or "half-blind". So "Samwise" is …

    I'm not so sure about Halfast though. Is "half-assed" used in England?

  17. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

    I'm not sure if Jagger's attempts at accent had been fully consolidated/standardized that early,* but I think "half" has the BATH vowel for those who (like Jagger when not both affecting an American accent and doing so accurately) lack the TRAP/BATH merger, and would thus come out something like "hahf." The hurried low-budget nature of the recording process in 1964 (and this particular track was knocked out on a day off in the middle of a U.S. tour) made it unlikely anyone was going to suggest the band do another take just so that a stray vowel could be better Americanized. (Although since they were recording in Chicago at the legendary Chess studios where a lot of the classic R&B records Jagger was self-consciously trying to imitate had originally been made, it's kind of amusing to think of the studio staff there trying to give him dialect-coach pointers on AmEng and/or AAVE phonology.)

  18. rootlesscosmo said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    A novel by Peter deVries included a character portrayed as a pretentious poet, who explained that just as Emily Dickinson had used assonance, or "half-rhyme," he was using "half-assonance."

  19. SlideSF said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    I first ran into this in the catalogs for Helen Gallagher Foster House, a mail-order kitsch dealer in the way-pre-internet days. They sold a "cutting board" wall plaque (suitable for kitchen, office, or den) that read "I;m not slow and I'm not fast. I'm half-fast". another of their fine products was an ashtray in the shape of a skull that read "I'll bite your ash!"

  20. Tom V said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

    I've seen at least one instance (Texas ca. 1980) of a group called the half-fast running club.

  21. j a higginbotham said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 1:50 am

    And that is apparently the origin of Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club (1961, New Orleans Mardi Gras). I had never thought about it.

  22. Robert Coren said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    @maidhc: In one of the Appendices, Tolkien says specifically that "Samwise" is intended to suggest an Old English "half-wise" (while also telling us what his name "really" was in Westron). He doesn't say anything about "Halfast", but it seems like an unlikely joke for him — I can't think of a single instance of anything remotely "off-color" in his writings.

    I don't know if the English use the expression, still less if they were doing so when Tolkien was writing, but if they do it would be "half-arsed", surely.

  23. Theophylact said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 10:54 am

    The Old Woman in Candide is half-assed but fully competent.

  24. Jamie said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    Half-arsed is used over here (UK). But remember that most English accents are non-rhotic so it will be half-ahsed (a long 'a', rather than the short American 'a').

  25. Jens Fiederer said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 2:29 pm


    While you probably have the ACTUAL derivation correct, the other meaning is not new…..Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver introduced the character of Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe who was not only impulsive but had lost a good part of his male organ in a botched attempt to cure his venereal disease.

  26. Robert Coren said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

    @Jamie: yes, I know about British "arse" = US "ahss". In fact, I've been told (on no particular authority) that the pronunciation that led to the spelling "arse" was originally a facetious attempt to simulate a "refined" pronunciation of "ass". One piece of evidence in favor of that hypothesis is the presence in William Golding's Lord of the Flies of the spelling "ass" (and mine is an English edition, purchased in London, so it's not a matter of a US publisher Americanizing the spelling).

  27. Brett said,

    October 4, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

    @maidhc, Robert Coren: The gaffer's name was "Hamfast," and Tolkien gives the meaning, and Westron original, right along with Ran's.

  28. Peter Evans said,

    October 5, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    "Not too slow, not too fast. Kind of like half-fast." — attributed by various websites (though not Wikiquote) to Louis Armstrong.

    Any cyclists among you who find yourselves in Tokyo and don't intend either to dawdle or to race may wish to get in touch with Half Fast Cycling Tokyo http://halffastcycling.com/ , inspired less by Lance than by Louis.

  29. Jamie said,

    October 5, 2014 @ 7:52 am

    @Robert Coren, I think that is ass-backward (if you'll excuse the phrase). Old English and many other Indo-European languages have cognates with the 'r'.

    But 'ass' is much older than I realised and not even an "Americanism." Apparently, it might even go back to Shakespeare:

  30. Robert Coren said,

    October 5, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    @Jamie, good point, and I should have remembered German Arsch.

  31. Robert Coren said,

    October 5, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    @Brett: True, but we weren't talking about the Gaffer; Sam has a cousin — a minor character, I don't even recall if he appears in person — named Halfast, nicknamed Hal.

  32. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 6, 2014 @ 11:24 am

    The great John Anderson (who sings with a very strongly regional accent that I personally find rather lovely to listen to; he grew up far enough north in Florida to be "Southern" for cultural/linguistic purposes) had a hit on the country/western charts in the mid-80's with his own version of "It's All Over Now." But after listening closely he sounds like he went with "high class" in the relevant line, perhaps to avoid controversy or perhaps just because he thought Womack's original lyric sang better and/or made more sense.

  33. R SteinmetZ said,

    October 6, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

    The first mention of Half-Fast I remember is Pete Fountain's Half Fast Walking Club. A new Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, it was founded in 1961.

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