You could guess at this word’s meaning by appearance, but that would be silly. It does seem to ask disingenuously, “Who’s fat? You? Us?” And certainly it seems a bit pudgy, with its baggy-cheek u‘s and its o like a hungry mouth. But clap the s on like a hand, Benny or Culkin style, and you know the mouth is agape in daft wonder. And if the uous is a head, the fat is its metaphorical descriptor. This is a lovely word in that it can make the object appear foolish (perhaps in a John Candy kind of way) and the speaker appear pretentious simultaneously. No wonder it’s so useful to academic argument. It is quite promiscuous, though it does have one regular flame – fire. That coupling is really a pair of Latin lovers, however: ignis fatuus is the more standard term for what is also called Will-o’-the-wisp, a spectral mirage caused by, well, swamps farting and lighting it. Does that sound dreadfully inane? Well, fatuus, after all, is Latin for “foolish” or “idiotic.”

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