a bundle, an oppressive ideology, a slur, and some delicious tex-mex

Long ago, the Proto-Italic language that predated Latin had a word to describe a bundle of something: “faskis”, which itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European “bhasko”. This term later appears in Latin as “fasces” and refers to a bundle of wooden rods with a protruding blade.

The fasces was carried as a symbol of legal authority in the Etruscan civilization and it’s use was continued by the Romans. To this day it is used as a symbol for the rule and power of law. It even appears in the wall art of the United States House of Representatives.

See the bronze structures on either side of the flag, between the pillars. Source: https://historycms2.house.gov/assets/15032423351.asset

Its historic association with a strong rule of law (usually by force) is likely why the fasces was also associated with a pro-war group in WW1-era Italy called the Fascio d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (Band of Revolutionary Action), and then later the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Fighting Leagues), both of which were founded by Benito Mussolini (who was a pretty terrible dude). From this, it likely comes as no surprise that the symbol was finally adopted by the National Fascist Party of Italy (also Mussolini). It’s actually from this last group that we get the modern political term “fascism“, which is associated with militarism, governance by force, and a generally despicable “might makes right” attitude. Fitting that they chose a symbol that originally signified the dominance of law over life.

The Proto-Italic word “faskis” also made its way into Old French to become the word “fagot”, meaning a bundle of sticks. It came by way of Italian, by way of Vulgar Latin, by way of (proper?) Latin. Those of you who have spent enough time online know where this is headed. The Old French word made its way into English, where it became adopted as derisive slang for an unpleasant woman, and then eventually it came to American slang to be used as a derogatory term for a homosexual man. Since the mid-20th century, this word (no, I’m not typing it, you know the one) has largely been regarded as an offensive slur towards queer men, though in recent years, there has been a movement to reclaim the term.

By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4874766

However, not all associations with the early word “faskis” are negative. It also made its way (likely via a similar Latin to Vulgar Latin route) into Spanish to become the word “faja”, meaning “strip, belt, or wrapper“. From here the term was adopted into Tex-Mex cooking, where the diminutive form became the name of a popular dish, fajitas!

Relatedly, the city council of Kyle, Texas recently voted to change the name of a local street from “Rebel Drive” to “Fajita Drive” to celebrate the dish’s Texan roots. However the residents didn’t feel that was an appropriate move, and the decision was quickly rescinded. In the interim, the road was simply referred to by the creative, state-designated moniker: “W. Ranch to Market Road 150”. However, at the time of this writing and in a predictably American fashion, the city council declined to name the street after Martin Luther King Jr. or Albert Taylor (a successful 20th-century African-American businessman from Kyle) and instead unanimously voted to rename the street “Veterans Drive”.

So there you have it. Some early human decided they needed a name for their bunch of sticks and now we associate that name with legal authority, oppressive political systems, queerphobic slurs, and Tex-Mex. It makes me wonder which minor things from my lifetime might echo throughout history in ways I can’t begin to predict.

What do you all think? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.


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