How do you spell /fæp/?

The story so far concerns three items pronounced /fæp/:

(fæp-1) an exclamation of annoyance, similar to drat!

(fæp-2) an onomatopetic expression, representing the sound of vigorous male masturbation

(fæp-3) a verb meaning ‘to masturbate vigorously’ (of a man)

(The first is discussed here, the others on 9/10 here, where the second is taken to be the source of the third, and on 9/11 here, about the second.)

How do we spell these items? As far as I can tell, the first has only the simplest available spelling, FAP, but the sexual items show variation between FAP and FAPP. What to make of this?

In discussion of (fæp-3) on ADS-L (where FAPP happened to appear in the first occurrences reported there) and Facebook it wasn’t always clear whether people were taking FAP and FAPP to be two distinct verbs or simply spelling variants. But surely they’re just spelling variants for one verb, with no distinction in meaning. Similarly, for onomatopoetic (fæp-2), except that here the earliest attested examples, in the webcomic Sexy Losers, have only FAP.

Spelling variation often excites passions. Even where both variants seem to have standard status (and are recognized as such in dictionaries) — as for AGING and AGEING, MOVABLE and MOVEABLE, productive suffix -IZE and -ISE, and many others — many are inclined to insist that only one spelling is correct, to insist that there is One Right Way (a usage attitude I have deprecated on other occasions).

For onomatopoetic (fæp-2) and the verb (fæp-3), both spellings can be defended. FAP is simpler (shorter), and AP for /æp/ is clearly the default spelling:

(1) LAP, CAP, MAP, JAP, PAP, ZAP, TRAP, CRAP, and many more.

But APP is also attested, in the clipping of (computer) application, and in a number of proper names:

(2) the ethnonym LAPP, the cartoonist (Al) CAPP, E. F. Benson’s character MAPP (and Lucia), Hercule Poirot’s colleague Inspector JAPP, theatrical producer Joseph PAPP, the funk band ZAPP, the performing family TRAPP, and the KRAPP of Krapp’s Last Tape

(Note the item-by-item parallels between lists (1) and (2).)

The APP spelling is clearly the minority, special, variant, but it’s certainly attested, and it has the virtue of orthographic weightiness. So FAPP is heavier, and possibly more forceful, than FAP.

And then there’s a possible historical route to the spelling FAPP, according to which onomatopoetic FAP spins off a verb FAP, with PST/PSP spelled FAPPED and PRP spelled FAPPING, from which FAPP can be extracted by a kind of orthographic back-formation (the verb forms could have been based on FAPP just as easily as FAP).



7 Responses to “How do you spell /fæp/?”

  1. John Baker Says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen the spelling “fapp,” except on ADS-L, and the poster who used that spelling subsequently acknowledged that it was a mistake. A quick look at Google suggests that it is used occasionally, but is very much a minority usage.

    Incidentally, the second page of my Google search for “fap” revealed the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project (CAN-FAP), which says it is Canada’s best-known and feistiest pro-foreskin advocacy group. I suspect it’s fair to say that the resulting acronym is not coincidental. I haven’t looked at the page (it’s blocked at my workplace), so I don’t know if this is really a Canadian anti-circumcision advocacy group, or just a joke page.

  2. nelsonminar Says:

    “Fapp” seems completely foreign to me as a participant in Internet culture on Reddit, etc. It’s “fap” and “fapping”. As for authoritative spelling I’d go to Know Your Meme for the best source research. (First use: 1999, Sexy losers).

    I think it’s amusing you’ve gone with a phonetic transcription for a word that was coined in a written medium.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I went with a phonetic transcription for a word coined in a written medium because the word was clearly intended to be pronounced in use, and the question was about the ways in which it was spelled (while the pronunciation was clear). Are there really educated people who believe that the written form of the language is the Real Language? (If so, then linguists and lexicographers have utterly failed in their mission.)

      • nelsonminar Says:

        Well you know my linguistics education is sophomoric at best and I certainly agree that spoken language is almost always normative! But is there an exception for language which comes from a written medium? Do people study the details of language that is primarily written instead of spoken? I imagine they must.

        Regardless, Arnold, next time I fap I will certainly be thinking of you. <3

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Nelson: next time I fap I will certainly be thinking of you.

        Ooh. Aah. Uhhhhh.

        Honored to be a Grey Eminence of Fapping.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There certainly is a place for linguistic material that comes to us in crucially visual form, like the unpronounceable glyph that served for a time as Prince’s name. But that’s a preposterous idea for /fæp/, which is crucially *onomatopoetic*, rooted in sound.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    I’m astonished at the number of responses, especially in Facebook, that explain that the -AP spelling is the Only Right One and take me to have been advocating the -APP spelling — when I was in fact merely reporting on the spelling variants that are out there. Sigh.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: