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Word of the Day: FAN!

On the hottest day of the year ever recorded in the UK, we are doing our best to keep cool at the Mills Archive.

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Working in a 17th-century building with no air conditioning is a challenge. The library is currently 26.8C at 10.30am. Our solution is to open the window in the library and put a large desk fan on the table; Ron has a smaller desk fan on the opposite side of the library and there are more fans in the office. Liz and Lucy have brought in decorative fans for individual wafting. 

This raised the question of the etymology of the word FAN. Ron says that he can understand football fans as that is derived from the word fanatic, but why is FAN used for so many different objects which essentially move air around. We mustn’t forget fantails on windmills either. Where does the word originate?

The Oxford English Dictionary explains that fan comes from the Latin fannus which then became the Old English fann/fannian -> fan. In Old English it was a noun for a device used in the winnowing of grain with fannian being the verb.

The three nouns for fan refer to:

1. A device with rotating blades used for cooling or ventilation
2. A small rotating sail/blades used to keep the top of the windmill towards the wind
3. A folded handheld device for cooling the person holding it.

So here are windmill fans for the day and we hope that you manage to keep cool in the heatwave! To finish, I’ll leave you with Lucy’s joke (which she says she has been waiting over a year since she started at the Archive for the chance to share!):

Pictures above are the fantail at Pakenham windmill, Suffolk (title picture), and the development of fan technology (Roy Gregory Collection).