Fast asleep

In Ian’s mailbag column , he gives several of examples of “fast” being used to mean something steady or unchanging (steadfast, colorfast, etc.). Just thought I’d add another one: “serofast” is the condition of always testing positive in blood tests for syphilis, even after one is cured. Just thought I’d share.

Experience makes you wise?

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

Let’s not forget the most common usage: To fasten

As for the origin of the word, I have my own ideas.

Fest, in German, means solid or strong or proper. For example a festung is a fortress. I doesn’t seem to be related to the english fast directly. In German fast is schnell.

You can say “This is made fest!” or sometimes when people want to add emphasis they’ll say “he got out of there, Fest!”. i.e. He left at a good clip.

It’s easy to see how this could have evolved into the English word fast. Both meanings of the word seem to fit. Both for solidity and speed.

Konrad wrote:

Please allow a native German to set a few things right.

Your definition of ‘fest’ and ‘Festung’ is essentially correct (except for the sense of ‘proper’, which may be a dialect use I’m not familiar with). It seems to agree pretty much with the early meaning of ‘fast’ in English that Ian explained. And I do think they’re related pretty closely since, according to my trusty Webster’s, ‘fast’ developed from Old High German ‘festi’ (firm). There is also a German word ‘fast’ (almost) which may or may not be related to ‘fest’ – it could have made a similar transition as the English ‘fast’, but I don’t have German etymology sources handy.

There is not normally a sense of speed to German ‘fest’. IMO, your second usage example would be restricted to dialect (often as ‘feste’). But it’s probably the same transition of meaning yet again.

And finally, the noun ‘Fest’ (feast), which also made its way into English, is unrelated to the above; it comes from Latin ‘festum’.

Inneresting, innit, that “fast” (as in, not eating) and “feast” (as in, overeating) are such similar words. Ponder on this, ye American readers, as ye cram yourselves with turkey and similar goodies to commemorate how the Pilgrims didn’t starve to death…and how the white invaders mistreated the native Americans.

“I know what it is to starve…I myself once missed a meal.” – Walt Kelly’s cartoon characature of Nikita Khruschev.

Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. It was probably originally meant as an added emphasis. i.e. He was running, fest! And got used like that often enough as slang to come to have the meaning “fast” in English.

By “proper” I mean well built, a job done right. For example, after nailing something down well, my grandfather would bang on it and say “fest”.

Well, in that context, it simply means ‘fixed’, ‘firmly in place’, ‘unable to be moved’, ‘unlikely to fall off’. It’s not necessarily an extension to ‘well built, a job done right’. Where was your grandpa from? Did he use the word in different situations?

Not to mention the motto of the Clan Grant:

“Stand fast, Craigellachie!”

He was from the part of Poland that used to be under Austrian occupation. His father was in the Austrian army as writer/secretary (?). I’m not sure of the title but basically it meant he was able to speak and write German. He would write reports and so on.

From what I remember he uses fest in the context of sturdy construction. So that’s not too far from the original meaning. But he also uses it to mean quickly. Like "I took out my pistol and they got out of there fest!’

Actually he uses a lot of words that aren’t common in Polish. He says grundt for ground. Or he’ll say “There’s not enough platz here”. Or he’ll say mura (German mur) instead of sciana, which is the more common form in Polish.