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San fairy ann

Q From John Cooper in Bermuda: What’s the meaning and derivation of San Ferry Ann? Apart from anything else it happens to be the title of a song by Paul McCartney.

A When the British Tommy arrived in France to fight in the First World War, he was presented with a language he struggled to make sense of. What he did to the pronunciation of French and Belgian place names is a wonder, such as turning Ypres into Wipers. He picked up a lot of French expressions, but he changed them into something that sounded English. This was the fate of ça ne fait rien, “it does not matter”, which became a British Army catchphrase in that war as an expression of resigned — or cynical — acceptance of some state of affairs, usually brought about by bungling officers. One English version of it was the one you quote, others were san fairy anna and even send for Mary Ann, though perhaps san fairy ann was the most common. It largely fell out of use after the War, and seems not to have been taken up by servicemen in the Second World War.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 6 May 2000

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Last modified: 6 May 2000.