• feist •
Pronunciation: faist • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A small, scrappy dog with a snippy attitude.
Notes: Feisty people are often admired for their feistiness: they are a bit touchy and quarrelsome, with a quick temper, but show pluck in the face of daunting odds. Often they are considered of smaller stature than others. Feisty means "like a feist", but what is a feist? We thought you might like to know before this word disappears forever. The last place feist was used was in the southern US, so the adjective represents a contribution from the South to the general English vocabulary.
In Play: There may still be old folks down South who use today's word like this, "I would sell my dog to Clara, but I don't think a feist like him would get along with her cats." But if people may be feisty, there may be metaphorical feists: "Ida Claire picked up a feist on steroids who picks fights with any male who looks at her twice."
Word History: This good word represents a variant spelling of fist, pronounced [fayst] just like feist, and is a reduction of the phrase fisting dog. This expression comes from Middle English fisting "breaking wind", inherited from the Old English fisting with the same odoriferous meaning. The semantic trail apparently began pointing to a dog far too old to be feisty, that expressed his spirit otherwise. The meaning changed rather radically over the years. At one point it was a disparaging name for a lady's lap dog but ended up referring to a small, spirited dog.