I was having a little on-line conversation about fog and the phrase ‘haven’t the foggiest’ came up and we were sort of wondering about it. Apparently Dickens was the first person to have used fog and foggy in the sense having a confused and foggy mind; it may have been a common spoken phrase of course, because being in a fog, meaning to be in a confused state of mind or being muddled, was first recorded two hundred years before Dickens. So maybe it was just Dickens who happened to use it in his novel, Barnaby Rudge. I’ve read most of Dickens novels, but Barnaby is one I haven’t… yet… I don’t think… However, when I looked it up and discovered it was about the Gordon Riots of 1780 it did ring a bell. Maybe it’s one of those books I read when I was young and had a voracious reading appetite. I can’t remember it, however, so I will reread it and I will be on the look out for ‘a dull and foggy sort of idea’. However, Dickens might have used the foggy idea idea, but ‘I haven’t the foggiest’ didn’t appear in print until about 1917.
So where does the word ‘fog’ come from? It first seems to have appeared in the 1540’s, and meant what we know it as, a thick concealing mist. It may have come from ‘foggy’, and was a contraction of an adjective which was common, or maybe it came from Scandinavian roots; ‘fog’ in Danish meant ‘a spray, shower, snowdrift.’ It’s also not dissimilar from Old Norse fjuk which meant a ‘drifting snow storm,’ and also Old English ‘fuht’, the Dutch ‘vocht’, and the German word ‘Feucht’ which means damp or moist.
So having things obscured by spray or snow, or having such a damp atmosphere the water droplets hang in the air and hide what’s all around is one thought; there is another Scandinavian word to do with grass, and long grass, a second-growth or that sort of long grass which grows in low-lying very wet land – which in Norwegian it’s fogg.
It all seems a dull and foggy sort of idea… doesn’t it?!