Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Community Comment

A Word A Day — famish

Good afternoon, Netizens...

November 29, 2012

Word of the Day

  • famish
  • audio pronunciation
  • \FAM-ish\


: to cause to suffer severely from hunger
: to suffer for lack of something necessary

"Set him breast-deep in earth and famish him, / There let him stand and rave and cry for food." — From Act V, Scene iii of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, 1593–94

"In northern Wisconsin, snow is like a cold, wintry manna. Some hotels and resorts feast when it's plentiful. They famish when it's not." — From an article by McLean Bennett in The Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), December 28, 2011


"Famish" likely developed as an alteration of Middle English "famen," meaning "to starve." The Middle English word was borrowed from the Anglo-French verb "afamer," which etymologists believe came from Vulgar Latin "affamare." We say "believe" because, while no written evidence has yet been found for the Vulgar Latin word "affamare," it would be the expected source for the Anglo-French verb based on the combination of the Latin prefix "ad-" ("to" or "toward") and the root noun "fames" ("hunger"). In contemporary English, the verb "famish" is still used on rare occasions, but it is considerably less common than the related adjective "famished," which usually means "hungry" or "starving" but can also mean "needy" or "being in want."

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.