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The phrase 'Old fogey' - meaning and origin.

The meaning and origin of the expression: Old fogey

Old fogey

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Old fogey'?

An old fogey is someone, usually an elderly man, with old-fashioned or conservative attitudes and appearance.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Old fogey'?

The phrase 'Old fogey' - meaning and origin.The expression old fogey came into being in the late 18th century. It was used then to refer specifically to old and infirm soldiers.

The first reference to it in print is in Captain Francis Grose's invaluable dictionary the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785:

Old fogey: A nickname for an invalid soldier: derived from the French word fougeux, fierce or fiery.

Old fogies were soldiers who were to old and infirm to undertake active service and were used to recruit younger men. The first example of it being used with that meaning is found in the London newspaper The

Morning Post, April 1793:

During the last week, a recruiting party of the Old Fogies had decoyed a number of young lads, by means of intoxication, &c. at which the friends and comrades of the deluded recruits were exceedingly displeased and disgusted.

The apparently related term 'old codger' is in fact not related at all. That was derived by a separate route.

It's worth a brief digression to consider how the word 'fogey' originated. Grose says it was from the French word fougeux. Much as I admire Grose I have to say that there's no reason to believe that. There are various suggested alternatives:

Foggy: A Scots dialect word meaning mossy or decrepit.
Fogram: A superannuated person or fuddy-duddy,

Fogram and fogey appear to mean the same thing and one may be a variant of the other. Sadly, as we don't know how fogram derived either, that's not much help. All in all we can't be sure how 'fogey' originated.

In the 19th century 'old fogey' began to be used outside a military context, to refer to someone who was old fashioned or out of touch. An early example is in the comic play The Duel, or My Two Nephews, by Richard Brinsley Peake, 1823:

Well, here I am, on the eve, or rather on the day, of visiting a rich old fogey of an uncle, who has not been in London for these forty years.

Although, after the early 1900s, old fogies didn't have to be soldiers, they still had to be old. The uncle referred to above was later described 'the venerable baronet'

Soon afterwards things changed again, with the emergence of the term 'young fogey'. this, as you might expect was the name given to people of antiquated beliefs and appearance who weren't old. An early example of that is found in Blackwood's Magazine, December, 1834:

Fondly imagining themselves all the while to be leaders - or unworthy young foggies - yet still of reputable character.

See other phrases first recorded by Captain Francis Grose.

The phrase 'Young fogey' - meaning and origin.That usage died out, only to be reborn in 1980s Britain. During Margaret Thatcher's Prime Minister-ship a group of public-school young conservative supporters began acting and dressing in the style their elders. Amongst these were the writers Simon Heffer and A.N. Wilson. Wilson in particular who, had he come from a different background, might have been known as Andy Wilson, adopted the old-fashioned initial form of his name, like C.S. Lewis or W. G. Grace. Recent pictures of Wilson, now in his 70s, look much the same as those from the 1970s.

More recently, the reactionary Conservative Member of Parliament Jacob Rees Mogg has taken to the same style and is widely lampooned as The Honourable Member for the 18th Century.

See other phrases first recorded by Captain Francis Grose.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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