When my brothers and I were little and fighting or fidgeting in the car, say, my dad would tell us “Stop faunching around!”  We knew what he meant from the context, although apart from him, our mom, and maybe some other relatives, nobody else ever used that word.  It started to seem that my dad had made it up.  Or maybe it was a Kansas thing.

I don’t think I ever heard anyone else ever say that one strange little syllable, and it fell out of my consciousness until recently, when I thought to google it.  Turns out, the word is known to other people:

“Faunch is a dialectal word that’s still in use, but its origin is unknown. It’s also spelled fauch or fawnch. In the sense ‘to rant, rave, rage’ it is first recorded in a 1911 word list compiled from material reported by students at the University of Nebraska: “How she will faunch when she hears it!” “The father fairly faunched when he found that his children had played truant.” In this sense faunch is a slang term used chiefly in the Western and South Midland United States (Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska).

As for faunch in the sense you ask about, ‘to fret, show irritation or impatience,’ the Dictionary of American Regional English has a quote from 1970 about the term’s use in Kansas: “The verb faunch is part of my vocabulary and was absorbed, I’m sure, from my grandmother’s speech which reflected the late nineteenth and early twentieth century usage of south-western Kansas…”

The current Newsweek features a My Turn essay by Joan Houston Hall, chief editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English.  She talks about pepole in Wisconsin saying bubbler for water fountain, and golden birthday (turning 10 on the 10th, say), and kringle (a specific pastry).  She assures us that contrary to popular belief, American English has NOT become entirely  homogenized.  “DARE’s research shows that American English is as varied as ever.  The language is diversified by immigration, of course, but also by people’s creative license and the resilient nature of local dialects.  We have dozens of ways to refer to a remote place, for instance, including the boonies, the sticks, the tules, the puckerbrush, and the willy-wags.”

She even mentions a word an Italian in-law of ours uses:  the verb “to skeeve,” as in “I’ll pass on the broccoli rabe, I skeeve that.”  It’s an adaptation of schifare, the Italian verb “to disgust.”  Hence, disgusting = skeevy.  We hear it a lot in the Philadelphia area.  It’s a useful word and I like to think I’m speaking a tiny little bit of Italian when I say it.

We remember my paternal grandmother saying “tush” instead of “tusk,” which, it turns out, is Elizabethan English – preserved in Appalachia.  A tiny bit of the the language of Shakespeare, spoken by my grandmother – how cool is that?

If anyone from the Dictionary of American Regional English is reading this, I just hope they included these words from my Kansas forebears (with Kentucky roots).  It might be too late for faunch, though.  They’re now working on the final installment (Slab-Z).

Any obscure words in your vocabulary, or that of your relatives?
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