Aside from the offensive meaning, colloquial British English uses the term fag to indicate a cigarette.

James has gone outside for a fag

In my googling, I thought perhaps this originates from one of the possible meanings of faggot:

a bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches bound together and used as fuel, a fascine, a torch, etc.


In a very loose sense, this definition could be applied to a cigarette. It's a collection of materials (tar, tobacco, etc) bound together for burning.

The origin from Etymonline indicates:

1888, probably from fag "loose piece, last remnant of cloth" (late 14c., as in fag-end "extreme end, loose piece," 1610s)

This appears to be speculative, and doesn't necessarily explain why this definition fell into common usage to indicate a cigarette. I'm looking for something more concrete indicating what caused it to be used in this context.

What is the origin of this meaning of the word?

  • 1
    I'll note that "fag" was a common term for "cigarette" among youth in the US back ca 1960. The usage was likely snuffed out by the competing meaning of "homosexual".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 21, 2017 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it comes from "fag", meaning a loose piece of cloth:

fag (n.1) Look up fag at Dictionary.com British slang for "cigarette" (originally, especially, the butt of a smoked cigarette), 1888, probably from fag "loose piece, last remnant of cloth" (late 14c., as in fag-end "extreme end, loose piece," 1610s), which perhaps is related to fag (v.), which could make it a variant of flag (v.).

The OED is a bit more convinced and categorically links it to fag-end:

Etymology: Abbreviation of fag-end. (Cf. fag sb.2 2.)

a. The fag-end of a cigarette. b. A cheap cigarette. c. Any cigarette (the current use). Also attrib., as fag card, a cigarette card; fag hag (see quot. 1945).

  • 1888 Sat. Rev. 30 June 786/2 ― They··burn their throats with the abominable ‘fag’, with its acrid paper and vile tobacco.
  • 1893 Pick-me-up 14 Oct. 45/2 ― Stimulants he calls ‘booze’ and a cigarette a ‘fag’.
  • 1898 Eng. Dial. Dict. s.v., ― Here [sc. at Redruth] we are often asked by youngsters to ‘chuck’ them ‘a fag’-and whole cheap cigarettes are also often called fags.
  • 1908 Church Times 7 Feb. 173/1 ― He gathered into a leather pouch the remains of his cigarettes, and left the room. ‘What does he do with all those fags?’ asked Conway. 1921 Galsworthy To Let iii. viii. 284 ― The fag of Fleur’s cigarette··fell on the grass.
  • 1922 Joyce Ulysses 70 ― Smoking a chewed fagbutt. 1928 Galsworthy Swan Song iv. 24 ― Cinemas, fags, and football matches-there would be no real revolution while they were on hand.
  • 1942 C. Barrett On Wallaby v. 97 ― Cobbers of the men in detention had hit upon an ingenious method of smuggling fags to them.
  • 1945 L. Shelly Jive Talk Dict. 24/1 ― Fag hag, girl chain smoker.
  • 1959 W. Golding Free Fall ii. 49 ― There was the business of the fagcards. We all collected them.

Fag-end itself, always according to the OED, comes from an usage of fag, meaning "something that hangs loose". I read all this as suggesting that the word for cigarette came about because of the way cigarettes often hang from smokers' mouths. For a famous example, see Lucky Luke:

Lucky Luke


Without any evidence, the origin of fag may be "fag end", that is the untwisted end of a rope.


Surprisingly, the origin of the equivalent French colloquial word, "une clope", is also unknown. Is it the same in German for "kippe" ?

  • 1
    Evidence or no evidence, it looks like a rolled up ciggie though,
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 1, 2015 at 1:02
  • We do use the term "fag end" to indicate the dregs of a cigarette. In most cases just the filter and a small remaining section of tobacco. That could just be converging usage rather than derived usage though. not sure. Dec 1, 2015 at 13:03
  • There are fag ends all over the floor.
    – Ajay Bhasy
    Sep 2, 2016 at 12:06

I was told in the the ration pack once apon a time you would get packets of cigarettes, they weren't very big 5 or 10 cigereetes per pack and couple dozen matches. It was written on the packet. For "A Good Smoke" or for short, FAGS .

  • This does not answer the question and contains no references to support it. Please edit it, appropriate to the question.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 21, 2017 at 14:32
  • 1
    Acronyms as the foundation for historical words are almost always fake. Please do research before posting here.
    – AndyT
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.