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Pronounced /ˈhʌnɪˌfʌɡ(ə)l/Help with pronunciation

The great tradition of expressive American terms of the nineteenth century brought forth this verb, which has now vanished from daily life. It means to deceive by flattery or sweet talk, to swindle or cheat.

It has been variously spelt down the decades, with honey-fugle or honeyfugle being common variants. The flattery was usually assumed to be with an ulterior purpose, as here in the Atlantic Monthly in 1861:

His habit of ‘log-rolling,’ or, as the extreme Westerners call it, ‘honey-fugling’ for votes and support, had so grown upon him, that his sincere friends feared lest he would sink too low, and in the end defeat himself.

Among its last public appearances was one in the Syracuse Herald in 1934, in which President Roosevelt was described as “the prize honeyfugler of his time”. One of the reasons why it dropped out of common usage may have been that a sense grew up of sexual activity with young women (with fuggle being a modification of fuck), as a semi-euphemistic version of another, unambiguous, term.

The honey part is easy to link with sweet-talking, but the rest is puzzling. It’s usually assumed to be a variation on an English dialect word coneyfugle, to hoodwink or cajole by flattery, where coney is the old word for an adult rabbit and fugle is an even more enigmatic term that means to cheat. But how the two words came to be put together in order to have that meaning is unknown.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 09 Oct 2004