I chanced on the following explanation on Aug. 5 2018, 2 years and 5 months after I initially posted this. Anyone have anything to add to or buttress it?

McWhorter, J. PhD Linguistics (Stanford). The Language Hoax (2016). pp. 123-124.

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  • Thank you for including your conjecture so that we can respond to it. I think the derivation is probably mainly from "vigor." A vigorous and strong person can move more quickly than a weak person. We can compare the development of "quick" (which originally meant "alive" or "lively") and "speed" (which originally meant "success" or "prosperity.")
    – herisson
    Feb 14, 2016 at 3:48
  • http://www.etymonline.com
    – Jim
    Feb 14, 2016 at 4:03
  • @sumelic +1. Thanks. You are welcome; at least I managed to conjecture this time.
    – user50720
    Feb 14, 2016 at 4:07

1 Answer 1


The origin of fast meaning quickly, rapidly etc. was already present in OE and appears to derive from a Scandinavian usage:

  • The meaning "quickly, swiftly, rapidly" was perhaps in Old English, certainly by c. 1200, probably from or developed under influence of Old Norse fast "firmly, fast."

  • This sense developed, apparently in Scandinavian, from that of "firmly, strongly, vigorously" (to run hard means the same as to run fast; also compare fast asleep, also compare Old Norse drekka fast "to drink hard," telja fast "to give (someone) a severe lesson").

  • Or perhaps from the notion of a runner who "sticks" close to whatever he is chasing (compare Old Danish fast "much, swiftly, at once, near to, almost," and sense evolution of German fix "fast, fixed; fast, quick, nimble," from Latin fixus).


  • That would make sense. "Fast" as in "fasting" or "abstaining from food" also existed in pre-12th century OE, and compliments the "firm" or "stoutly" definition. The two words coexisted instead of being supplanted.
    – Vogie
    Feb 25, 2016 at 18:21

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