sweet fanny adams

“Sweet Fanny Adams” is a euphemism for “sweet fuck all” and has been in use since at least the mid 1900s. It was originally used to express total downtime or inaction, then broadened to mean anything badly substandard, and now means “nothing at all.”

The “sweet Fanny Adams” phrase came from the murder of a child in England in August 1867. Eight-year-old Fanny Adams was murdered in Alton, England by Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor’s clerk. He left her dismembered body in a field near the town. She was buried in Alton cemetery. The inscription on the headstone indicates the intense feeling against the murderer:

“Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered August 24th, 1867. Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10:28.

This stone was erected by voluntary subscription.”

Naturally, the case caused enormous public concern and newspaper reports of the time concentrated on the youth and innocence of the victim. Everyone living in England at the time would have known the name of “sweet” Fanny Adams. 

However, with typical grisly humour, sailors in the British Royal Navy came to use the expression to refer to unpleasant meat rations they were often served, likening them to the dead girl’s remains. Barrère and Leland recorded this usage in their A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant, 1889: “Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton.”

It wasn’t until later that “sweet Fanny Adams” came to mean “nothing.” The term “fuck all,” which also means “nothing,” probably dates back to at least the early 1800s, although how long isn’t clear as it wasn’t recorded in print until the 1900s. 

Walter Downing, an Australian soldier who fought in Europe in the First World War, wrote a glossary of WWI soldier’s slang called Digger Dialects in 1919. He is the first to record the link between F.A. (meaning ‘fuck all’) and Fanny Adams:

“F.A., ‘Fanny Adams,’ or ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ — nothing; vacuity.”

Thanks to The Phrase Finder for the information.

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