Thursday, August 26, 2010

Origin: Sweet Fanny Adams


(Click on photograph to enlarge).

On 24 August, 1867 eight year old Fanny Adams was murdered by Frederick Baker, a 24 year old solicitor’s clerk, in the rural village of Alton in England. Having been seen in the vicinity of the crime at the relevant time, having admitted that he gave Fanny’s companions, her friend Minnie Warner and Fanny's 7 year old sister Lizzie Adams,  money to go away and buy lollies, and having admitted that he then spent time with Fanny, his defence had little chance of success. This was all the more so in that when arrested he had bloodstains on his clothes, he had two bloodstained knives on him, and that he had told an acquaintance he was going to leave town and might obtain employment as a butcher. Having obviously learnt little from working in a solicitor’s office, he had also written in his diary “24th August, Saturday — killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.” Both the defence of innocence and alternatively insanity were rejected by the jury, which convicted him in 15 minutes. He was executed on Christmas Eve outside Winchester Gaol with 5,000 attending.

Baker had killed Fanny Adams by a blow to the head with a rock. He had then savagely mutilated the body and scattered the parts, to such an extent that it took days to find the various bits and pieces. There was not a person in England who did not know of Fanny Adams at the time.

There the matter might have rested and passed into obscurity but for the British Navy introducing new rations of tinned mutton in 1869. Dissatisfied sailors jokingly referred to the rations as “Sweet Fanny Adams”, possibly because of the small pieces of meat contained in the rations. From there the term came to be applied to anything small or nothing. Often this was abbreviated to “Sweet F A” or just “SFA”.

The expression “Fuck all” already existed at that time, it did not descend from Sweet Fanny Adams. However, the similarity of the initials, FA, is believed to have resulted in the phrase “Sweet Fuck All”.

As a final note, the large tins the mutton was delivered in to make the rations were reused as mess tins. Mess tins or cooking pots are today still known as Fannys.


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