Болельщик, fan, fancy, Phans, …

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Slava Malamud goes on to explain the Russian relationship between fandom and pain:

The word "bolel'shchik" tells you all you need to know about the Russian approach. We did adopt the English word (in the form of "fanaty"), but it describes soccer hooligans exclusively.
"Bolel'shchik" is ours. Oh so very, very ours.
The root word is "bol", which means "pain"

"Bolet" is a verb derived from it. Its meaning is "to be ill." Therefore, "bolel'shchik" is someone who feels constant pain and/or is very sick. However, the word applies exclusively to sports supporters. A regular ill person is "bol'noi."
How Dostoyevskian is this shit?

The prevailing emotion of a Russian football fan (and this is where the word originated) is, of course, pain. Constant, unyielding feelings of sickness and discomfort that can only be understood if you ever sat on a wooden bench to watch a 0-0 slog in half-frozen mud in Saratov.

To support a sports team, in Russian culture, primarily means to experience pain, to be emotionally unwell, to subject one's mental health to voluntary mistreatment. To be unhealthily addicted to something bad.
Don't ever ask me why I root for the Buffalo Bills and Sabres again.

The OED glosses (the relevant sense of) fan as "A fanatic; in modern English (originally U.S.): a keen and regular spectator of a (professional) sport, originally of baseball; a regular supporter of a (professional) sports team; (hence) a keen follower of a specified hobby or amusement, and (gen.) an enthusiast for a particular person or thing", with citations back to 1682:

1682 ‘T. Rationalis’ New News from Bedlam 13 The Loyal Phans to abuse.
1682 ‘T. Rationalis’ New News from Bedlam 40 To be here Nurs'd up, Loyal Fanns to defame, And damn all Dissenters on purpose for gain.
1890 Omaha (Nebraska) Sunday Bee 2 Feb. ii. There has not been much enthusiasm shown among the baseball fans of the city.
1896 G. Ade Artie xvii. 158 I'm goin' to be the worst fan in the whole bunch.
1901 Dial. Notes 2 139 Fan, a base ball enthusiast; common among reporters.

The 17th-century quotes (about which more later) refer to politico-religious zealots rather than to sports-team supporters, and the OED's etymology notes that this "Abbreviation of fanatic adj. and n." was "Re-formed in 19th cent."

Wiktionary's etymology also suggests that this sense of fan , though derived from fanatic, was also "Possibly influenced by fancy (“group of sport or hobby enthusiasts”), fancy boy (“fan”), &c.", and the entry for fancy has senses:

7. Any sport or hobby pursued by a group.
Synonyms: hobby; see also Thesaurus:hobby
Trainspotting is the fancy of a special lot.
8. The enthusiasts of such a pursuit.
He fell out of favor with the boxing fancy after the incident.

As for fanatic, it comes from Latin fānāticus, which in turn is formed from fānum "temple".

Lewis & Short glosses fānāticus as "Inspired by a divinity, enthusiastic." Clearly this is the older sense of enthusiastic, which the OED glosses as "Designating a person who claims (falsely or erroneously) to receive divine communication or inspiration; […] also in wider sense: relating to, of the nature of, or characterized by mystical, fanatical, or radical religious delusion. "

A good example classical texts is this passage from Cicero's De Divinatione:

57. Sed, quod caput est, cur isto modo iam oracla Delphis non eduntur non modo nostra aetate, sed iam diu, ut modo nihil possit esse contemptius? hoc loco cum urguentur, ' evanuisse,' aiunt, ' vetustate vim loci eius, unde anhelitus ille terrae fieret, quo Pythia mente incitata oracla ederet.' De vino aut salsamento putes loqui, quae evanescunt vetustate. De vi loci agitur, neque solum naturali, sed etiam divina; quae quo tandem modo evanuit? 'Vetustate,' inquies. quae 'vetustas' est quae vim divinam conficere possit? quid tam divinum autem quam afflatus e terra mentem ita movens, ut eam providam rerum futurarum efficiat, ut ea non modo cernat multo ante, sed etiam numero versuque pronuntiet? quando ista vis autem evanuit? an postquam homines minus creduli esse coeperunt?

Demosthenes quidem, qui abhinc annos prope trecentos fuit, iam tum φιλιππίζειν Pythiam dicebat, id est quasi cum Philippo facere. hoc autem eo spectabat, ut eam a Philippo corruptam diceret. quo licet existimare in aliis quoque oraculis Delphicis aliquid non sinceri fuisse. sed nescio quo modo isti philosophi superstitiosi et paene fanatici quidvis malle videntur quam se non ineptos. evanuisse mavultis et extinctum esse id quod si umquam fuisset, certe aeternum esset, quam ea quae non sunt credenda non credere.

57. However, the main question is this: Why are Delphic oracles (of which I have just given you examples) not uttered at the present time and have not been for a long time? And why are they regarded with the utmost contempt? When pressed at this point their apologists affirm that 'the long flight of time has gradually dissipated the virtue of the place whence came those subterranean exhalations which inspired the Pythian priestess to utter oracles.' One might think that they are talking about wine or brine which do evaporate. But the question is about the virtue of a place—a virtue which you call not only 'natural' but even 'divine,'—pray how did it evaporate? 'By length of time,' you say. But what length of time could destroy a divine power? And what is as divine as a subterranean exhalation that inspires the soul with power to foresee the future—a power such that it not only sees things a long time before they happen, but actually foretells them in rhythmic verse? When did the virtue disappear? Was it after men began to be less credulous?

By the way, Demosthenes, who lived nearly three hundred years ago, used to say even then that the Pythian priestess 'philippized', in other words, that she was Philip's ally. By this expression he meant to infer that she had been bribed by Philip. Hence we may conclude that in other instances the Delphic oracles were not entirely free of guile. But, for some inexplicable cause, those superstitious and half-cracked philosophers of yours would rather appear absurd than anything else in the world. You Stoics, instead of rejecting these incredible tales, prefer to believe that a power had gradually faded into nothingness, whereas if it ever had existed it certainly would be eternal. [source]

And this leads us to the 17th-century examples (diversely spelled, by the same author, as "Phans" and "Fanns"), which come from a political screed with a spectacularly exuberant 151-word title:


New News from BEDLAM:
OR More Work for Towzer and his Brother Ravenscroft. ALIAS Hocus Pocuus Whipt and Stript:
OR a Ra-ree New Fashion CUPPING-GLASS Most humbly represented to the Observator
Wherein the various Shapes , and present Legerdemain Postures, Principles and Practices of the bold and most Insolent Factors for the infallible Chair (both in Church and State) are yet more and more unvailed and discovered.
As it was lately Represented in a plain honest Country Dialogue, (viz. both Serious, Comical, Satyrical, Tragical and Theological) to a True Loyal Protestant-Association of Master and Scholars, to be Acted by them at the next Breaking up of their Grammar-School, and then, and there, it is shrewdly suspected (by a Vote of Nemine Contradicente) 'twill be Resolved, That a Second Impression of the said Dialogue, with Appurtenances, shall be forthwith promoted and Published for the present Satisfaction and farther Information of the People.

By Theophilus Rationalis, one of Heraclitus Ridens, Nat Thompson's, and the most profound Observator's Wise Men of Gotham, although a most Sincere, and True Lover of King and Country.

Post Tenebras Splendet, surgit post Nubila Phoebus.

Theophilus Rationalis was apparently a pseudonym for Henry Duke, about whom I haven't been able to learn anything more.

You can look through the book yourself to find the contexts of Phans and Fanns.

And of course there's also stan — see "K-pop stans troll Trump", 6/22/2020.

Update — Antedating the OED's first baseball fan citation, here's the Kansas City Times for May 1, 1886:



  1. rone said,

    November 26, 2021 @ 3:57 pm

    Also see the Italian tifosi.

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 26, 2021 @ 4:39 pm

    When the "Phillie Phanatic" (who was recently in the news due to a lawsuit settlement) was first so named back in the late 1970's, I daresay that no one was specifically trying to evoke the orthography of T. Rationalis.

    Archaic spellings in instances like "phrenzy" for "frenzy" or "phantasy" for "fantasy" do have the justification of an etymology going back to a Latin word that started ph- because it was borrowed from Greek. But "phan" apparently lacks that.

  3. John from CIncinati said,

    November 26, 2021 @ 5:25 pm

    I’m under the impression that the Bolshoi Theater (большой театр) in Moscow is the “big” theater, home to the Bolshoi Ballet (большой балет) company. But is it really the Painful Ballet Company? Or are “big” and “painful” simply homonyms in Russian?

  4. F said,

    November 26, 2021 @ 7:54 pm

    @John: Your impression is correct. They are not quite homonyms, but pretty similar.

    With respect to Slava's point, I think it's worth emphasizing that больной is a sort of passive construction — someone experiencing pain/sickness — while болельщик is active — someone who occupies themselves by being in pain/sickness.

  5. Sergey said,

    November 26, 2021 @ 7:55 pm

    The etymology of болельщик can be traced even from the modern expressions. The phrases "he aches for something" (он болеет за что-то), and "he aches for something with all his heart" (он болеет за что-то всем сердцем) are used in Russian to describe someone who cares deeply about something. Hence the expression "he is rooting for his team" is said in Russian as "he aches for his team" (он болеет за свою команду). Hence "болельщик", probably a fairly recently created word, literally meaning "acher", distinct from "ill".

    As for Bolshoi, the root there is "bolsh" meaning "big", not "bol" meaning "pain/ache", unrelated words.

  6. Ralph J Hickok said,

    November 27, 2021 @ 8:29 am

    Before "fan" came into use, someone who followed baseball was called a "crank" or "krank," from the German word for "sick," with the implication that the illness was mental.

  7. Kate Bunting said,

    November 27, 2021 @ 8:40 am

    I've sometimes found it jarring when a character in a period drama on TV says that they are 'not a fan of' something, meaning they don't much like it. I'm sure I remember the Dowager Countess in 'Downton Abbey' using the expression. It seems the word is older than I thought, but I still find the use in a non-sporting context incongruous for someone speaking a century ago.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 27, 2021 @ 11:13 am

    Kate Bunting: I don't think British period dramas — Elizabethan, Victorian or whatever — ever use period language.

  9. Robert Coren said,

    November 27, 2021 @ 11:30 am

    @J. W. Brewer: No doubt (and as you no doubt knew already) the "Phanatic" is so spelled for visual rhyming purposes.

    @Coby Lubliner: Whether they use "period language" as a general thing or not, I've noticed that anachronistically modern idioms tend to creep in, presumably because the writers are so used to them that they don't think about whether their characters would ever have actually said such a thing. I recently watched an episode of a British show – I can't remember whether it was Grantchester (set in rural England in the 1950s) or The Frankie Drake Mysteries (Toronto, 1920s) – in which several characters in succession expressed refusal or denial by saying "No way", which I don't think would have been current in either time or place.

  10. Andrew said,

    November 27, 2021 @ 12:11 pm

    I second what @Sergey said. Slava Malamud's interpretation of the verb *is not correct*. The verb has several meanings, and to be ill is just one of them, absolutely not applicable in this case.

  11. Terpomo said,

    November 30, 2021 @ 2:36 pm

    Robert, I think you might be suffering the recency illusion, because Wiktionary alleges that "no way" in its current sense dates to the 18th century.

  12. Robert Coren said,

    December 1, 2021 @ 11:21 am

    @Terpomo, you may very well be right., but I'm thinking specifically of "No way" as a stand-alone reply; is it clear that was used that way?

  13. Terpomo said,

    December 1, 2021 @ 1:28 pm

    It doesn't make it entirely clear, no. This is the entry: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/no_way

  14. Robert Coren said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 10:04 am

    It looks like the only pre-20th-c. example is for adverbial use, not the interjection. So I have my doubts.

  15. Bloix said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 10:07 pm

    Kate Bunting –
    In a world where lords and ladies know the names and take an interest in the personal lives of kitchen maids and footmen, the language they use is the least of the anachronisms.

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