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Foison

Returning home from holiday recently, I was struck by the intense green of the vegetation and how vigorously it had grown, the result of our wettest April on record. Shakespeare used foison for such energetic growth (“Earth’s increase, foison plenty”), meaning plenty and abundance.

Etymologists have traced it to Latin fundere, to pour (a good description of our April weather). Though French has it still, English abandoned foison well over a century ago, except for a very few examples of what I recently identified as gotwottery:

Many days they rode that pass of the mountains, though it was not always so evil and dreadful as at the first beginning; for now again the pass opened out into little valleys, wherein was foison of grass and sweet waters withal, and a few trees.

The Well at the World’s End, by William Morris, 1896.

A rare modern user is the journalist and politician Boris Johnson, currently Mayor of London, who may not be to everybody’s taste as a politician but whose English vocabulary is as copious as the word suggests:

What did we have, to put next to the rich foison of the French dairy? Cheddar, leicester, wensleydale and a handful of perhaps seven others: magnificent species, but not exactly a tribute to British powers of innovation.

Sunday Telegraph, 15 Feb. 2001.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 23 Jun. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 23 June 2012.