The Vocabularist: Are fans fanatical or fanciful?

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‘With the Rugby World Cup under way it would be nice to explain why sports supporters are called “fans” – but we don’t know for sure, writes Trevor Timpson.

“Fanatic” derives from the Latin “fanum” meaning “shrine” and Dr Johnson defined it as “struck with a superstitious frenzy”.

“Fancy” is essentially the same word as “fantasy”, from the Greek phantasia, its meanings shading through appearance, opinion, enthusiasm for something – and sometimes delusion.’

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