SWEET FANNY ADAMS
The expression "Sweet Fanny Adams" refers to her and has come, through British naval slang "nothing at all". Though the expression started to be used around 1867, it was not until 1919 in a book of WW1 soldier clang that we come across the first recorded the link between F.A. (meaning 'f*** all') and Fanny Adams.
So where did the term originate in the first place?
The term actually comes from a quite horrific murder of 8 year old Fanny Adams on 24th August 1867.
On 24 August 1867 at about 1.30 pm, Fanny's mother, Harriet Adams, let Fanny and her friend Millie Warner (both 8 years old) and Fanny's sister Lizzie (aged 7) go up Tanhouse Lane towards Flood Meadow. In the lane they met Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor's clerk. Baker offered Millie and Lizzie three halfpence to go and spend and offered Fanny a halfpenny to accompany him towards Shalden, a couple of miles north of Alton. She took the coin but refused to go. He carried her into a hop field, out of sight of the other girls.
At about 5 pm, Millie and Lizzie returned home. Neighbor, Mrs Gardiner asked them where Fanny was, and they told her what had happened. Mrs Gardiner told Mrs Adams, and they went up the lane, where they came upon Baker coming back. They questioned him and he said he had given the girls money for sweets, but that was all. His respectability meant the women let him go on his way.
At about 7 pm Fanny was still missing, and neighbors went searching. They found Fanny's body in the hop field, horribly butchered. Her head and legs had been severed and her eyes put out. Her torso had been emptied and her organs scattered. Her remains were taken to a nearby doctor's surgery, where over several days the body was put back together. (The surgery is now a pub called the "Ye Olde Leathern Bottle" and is believed to be haunted by the little girl.)
Mrs Adams ran to tell her husband, what had happened. He went and got his shotgun from home and set off to find the perpetrator, but neighbors stopped him.
That Baker was arrested at his place of work (a solicitors). He was led through an angry mob to the police station. There was blood on his shirt and trousers, which he could not explain, but he protested his innocence. He was searched and found to have two small blood-stained knives on him.
Witnesses put Baker in the area, returning to his office at about 3 pm, then going out again. Baker's workmate, fellow clerk Maurice Biddle, reported that, when drinking in the Swan that evening, Baker had said he might leave town. When Biddle replied that he might have trouble getting another job, Baker said, chillingly with hindsight, "I could go as a butcher".
On 26 August, the police found Baker's diary in his office. It contained a damning entry:
24th August, Saturday — killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.
At his trial on 5 December, the defense contested Millie Warner's identification of Baker and claimed the knives found were too small for the crime anyway. They also argued insanity: Baker's father had been violent, a cousin had been in asylums, his sister had died of a brain fever and he himself had attempted suicide after a love affair.
The judge invited the jury to consider a verdict of not responsible by reason of insanity, but they returned a guilty verdict after just fifteen minutes.
On Christmas Eve, Baker was hanged outside Winchester Jail. The crime had become notorious and a crowd of 5,000 attended the execution.
So how does this link to the current usage of the term?
In 1869 new rations of tinned mutton were introduced for British seamen. They were unimpressed by it, and decided it must be the butchered remains of Fanny Adams. The way her body had been strewn over a wide area presumably encouraged speculation that parts of her had been found at the Navy victualling yard in Deptford.
With typical grisly humor, they sailors came to use the expression “Sweet Fanny Adams” to refer to these unpleasant meat rations, meaning worthless, which changed to mean “nothing at all”
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