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?

  • 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 '17 at 13:40

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 '15 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. – Obsidian Phoenix Dec 1 '15 at 13:03
  • There are fag ends all over the floor. – wintersolider Sep 2 '16 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 '17 at 14:32
  • 1
    Acronyms as the foundation for historical words are almost always fake. Please do research before posting here. – AndyT Nov 21 '17 at 15:56

protected by tchrist Nov 21 '17 at 13:48

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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