My understanding is that the word fascism comes from fasces meaning a bundle of sticks and the slur also had the meaning of a bundle of sticks. Are we looking at false friends?


3 Answers 3


Both terms refer to a bundle of sticks, but in the case of fascist it refers to the Ancient Roman usage as a symbol of power, while in the case of faggots it appears to refer to a worthless bundle, originally used as a derogatory term to refer to a woman. Other suggested origins don’t seem to have any relation to the “fascist” usage:


1590s, from Latin fasces "bundle of rods containing an axe with the blade projecting" (plural of fascis "bundle" of wood, etc.

Carried before a lictor, a superior Roman magistrate, as a symbol of power over life and limb: the sticks symbolized punishment by whipping, the axe-head execution by beheading. Hence in Latin it also meant, figuratively, "high office, supreme power."


The explanation that male homosexuals were called faggots because they were burned at the stake as punishment is an etymological urban legend.

Burning sometimes was a punishment meted out to homosexuals in Christian Europe (on the suggestion of the Biblical fate of Sodom and Gomorrah), but in England, where parliament had made homosexuality a capital offense in 1533, hanging was the method prescribed.

Use of faggot in connection with public executions had long been obscure English historical trivia by the time the word began to be used for "male homosexual" in 20th century American slang, whereas the contemptuous slang word for "woman" (in common with the other possible sources or influences listed here) was in active use early 20c., by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, among others.


  • 2
    What do you mean by "doesn't seem to have any relation"? You left out entirely the part of the etymonline entry of 'faggot' that established the connection. The two words are derived from the same Latin root word.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:00
  • 1
    @Mitch - I mean that though a “bundle of stick” is the original meaning from which both terms derive, fascist refers to the ancient Roman usage, while faggot derive from a very different connotation of bundle of sticks, that is a worthless bundle. Other supposed origin don’t even refer to “bundle of sticks”.
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:10
  • Sure, the meanings have diverged greatly but there is a direct line of derivation for both back to Latin 'fasces'. The question is 'do they share a root?' and the answer from etymonline is glaringly 'yes'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:38
  • @Mitch - yes, and that’s why the opening line of my answer is “both term refer to a bundle of sticks”. I think it is also worth explaining that “that bundle” refers to quite different things, though.
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:43
  • There's no doubt that the two have diverged in meaning, a strong bundle vs a loose bundle. But the issue us instead if phonetically the different meanings have both a phonetic and semantic common origin. Also, What about the missing paragraph from etymonline?
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:55

In addition to faggot, a known decedent of the Latin fasces, a bundle of sticks, there may be another faggot in American English that became the pejorative for male homosexual.

פֿייגעלע‎ (feygele) , Yiddish for little bird may actually be the source of the pejorative. Feygele was used in early 20th Century New York the same way faggot is used today.

Faggot in its current pejorative sense seems to have originated in early 20th Century America. This would have been the same time period that saw feygele in American Yiddish in the pejorative sense.

There is no point trying to prove that Yiddish slang has contributed to American slang; it has beyond question. And no point trying to prove that feygele was the sole origin of the politically incorrect faggot. There are endless possibilities here. Among them is that faggot was the closest sounding English word to feygele some Americans could come up with.

Tracing faggot to the German vogel rather than the Latin fasces would have seemed a stretch to me some years ago. But, I think the origin of this term has not been sufficiently examined. Some uses of (fasces) faggot make sense, such as cigarette, as they were once sold in bundles. But that faggot in the sense of a male homosexual, does not.

I am prepared to keep my mind open here.

  • That is a really interesting take the two words feygele and faggot certainly reinforce each other.
    – King-Ink
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:37
  • The possibly influence of Yiddish 'feygeles' with 'faggot' is noted in the etymonline entry.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:51
  • @Mitch 11 .. yes it is, but only a passing reference. What had me going was the general acceptance that faggot, the pejorative, must come from fasces. I'm not completely convinced. Yiddish had been creeping into American English for a century or so (mostly ending by 1960), not the least because American Yiddish speakers sometimes forgot which language they were speaking. There was a lot of interplay between American English and Yiddish.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 22:16
  • (Only a century? Then it's not Yiddish. faggot has "probably" been a derogatory term for ~400y.) > n.2 "male homosexual," 1914, American English slang (shortened form fag is from 1921), probably from earlier contemptuous term for "woman" (1590s), especially an old and unpleasant one, in reference to faggot. – dictionary.com
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 1:23
  • @Mazura... the century would have been about 1860-1960. The use of faggot for woman is noted, but its general use is not well established. Many other uses of the word are well established prior to the first quarter of the 20th Century. After that, the term turns sharply to a pejorative for male homosexual in American English.. As I wrote in the answer, my mind is open here, and the question of origin is not really established.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 11:45

First, let's look at the basic etymology of the two words.

Faggot etymology:

Middle English (in the sense ‘bundle of sticks for fuel’): from Old French fagot, from Italian fagotto, based on Greek phakelos ‘bundle’.
Oxford Dictionaries

It's important to note that "phakelos" is "φάκελος".

Fascism etymology:

1920s: from Italian fascismo, from fascio ‘bundle, political group’, from Latin fascis (see fasces).
Oxford Dictionaries

According to the Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, fascis is not related to phakelos/φάκελος:

facis 'bundle, faggot; (symbol of) power' [m i] (Pl.+)
IE cognates: Olr. basc 'necklace', W. beich 'burden', Bret. bec'h 'load' < PCl. *b(h)askio-.

An Italo-Celtic correspondence *bhaski(o)- 'bundle' for which no PIE etymology is available. Greek words such as φάκελος 'bundle' and βάσκιοι 'bundles of osiers' (Hsch.) are probably unrelated, since they show irregular alternations within Greek, and do not have exactly the same preform *bhaski-(o-).

  • Excellent online Latin etymology dictionary!
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:07

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