This is a short report about the orgins of a word selected from the Dictionary of Regional American English.

Finagling My Fifty Points – Or Not.

According to The Dictionary of American Regional English, the word finagle may function as a verb meaning, ‘to deceive by flattery; to obtain by improper means, to cheat’ or it may function as a noun meaning, ‘an instance of wangling or chicanery’ (“Finagle”). Young and middle aged speakers throughout the United States - with the exception of residents of the West Midlands - commonly use the word finagle. Its variant spellings are: fanigle, fenagle, fenig(g)le, finigal, fin(n)agel, finaygle, and phenagle. One may pronounce it as /fInegəl/, /fənegəl/, or more rarely /fənIgəl/.

Finagle traces its origin back to Gregor von Feinaigle (1765?-1819) who was a “German proponent of mnemonics who lectured (and was often ridiculed) in England and France” (“Finagle”). Residents of East Coast states trace back the use of the word finagle to the early nineteen hundreds with phrases like “I’m a weary man and I don’t want any finnagelling from you” or “He’ll faniggle around some way to win” (“Finagle”). The nineteen thirties and forties saw the use of finagle in published works such as Michael Cain’s novel Fast One, Writer’s Digest, and The Saturday Evening Post - all of which used the word in the form of the gerund finagling (with variant spellings). Other uses included the word finagle in conjunction with the preposition around. For example, an interviewee from Georgia used as follows in the phrase: “If you . . . made him lower the price, you might say, ‘I finagled around’” (“Finagle”).

One interviewee stated that as a boy he learned to interpret the word finagle as meaning, ‘fuss and feathers over a small matter with fakery in it, a lackadaisical effort to sell a bargain, a small bargain . . .’ (“Finagle”). While this definition has a note of rustic simplicity to it, it also holds a quaint charm in that it conveys an important truth. How often do people get caught up in using tremendous effort only to acquire the most trivial of things? How much time do people waste seeking after things that do not matter in the long run?

I chose this word because prior to reading its description in the Dictionary of American Regional English, I had not realized how negative of a connotation it held. I also thought it was interesting that the DARE reported that it is not a commonly used word in the West Midlands (which just happens to be the region that we are in). Because I have heard and used the word before (and therefore assumed the editors would have listed it as common to the West Midlands) I wondered if it is used even more commonly in other regions.

Works Cited

“Finagle.” Dictionary of American Regional English. Eds. Cassidy, Frederic G., Joan Houston Hall. Vol. II. Cambridge: Belknap, 1991. Print.