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Origin of fancy

First recorded in 1400–1450; Middle English fan(t)sy, syncopated variant of fantasie fantasy

synonym study for fancy

9. Fancy, fantasy, imagination refer to qualities in literature or other artistic composition. The creations of fancy are casual, whimsical, and often amusing, being at once less profound and less moving or inspiring than those of imagination: letting one's fancy play freely on a subject; an impish fancy. Fantasy now usually suggests an unrestrained or extravagant fancy, often resulting in caprice: The use of fantasy in art creates interesting results. The term and concept of creative imagination are less than two hundred years old; previously only the reproductive aspect had been recognized, hardly to be distinguished from memory. “Creative imagination” suggests that the memories of actual sights and experiences may so blend in the mind of the writer or artist as to produce something that has never existed before—often a hitherto unperceived vision of reality: to use imagination in portraying character and action.

historical usage of fancy

Fancy is a 15th-century contraction of fantasy or phantasy. Fantasy comes from Old French phantasie, fantasie “imagination, imaginative faculty, a work of the imagination,” which in turn comes from Late Latin phantasia “idea, notion, fancy, imagined experience or set of circumstances, mere fancy or semblance.” In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible, prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century), phantasia also means “apparition, phantom.”
The original meaning of fancy, “individual preference or liking, arbitrary inclination,” as in “to take a fancy to someone,” was only one of several meanings of Middle English fantasie, a technical word in the psychology of scholasticism (the system of theological and philosophical teaching and disputation predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the authority of the Bible, of the church fathers, and of Aristotle and his pagan, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish commentators).
The adjective fancy, meaning “fine, ornamental,” did not appear until 1753; it developed from attributive use of the noun in the sense “designed to please the taste or fancy.”


fan·ci·ness, nounun·fan·cy, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use fancy in a sentence

  • I find the absolute quality of the housing stock and cars available to the poor much more important than the relative fanciness.

  • Children are inclined to think beauty means fanciness and that beauty increases with the quantity of decoration.

    Primary Handwork|Ella Victoria Dobbs

British Dictionary definitions for fancy

Derived forms of fancy

fancily, adverbfanciness, noun

Word Origin for fancy

C15 fantsy, shortened from fantasie; see fantasy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with fancy


see flight of fancy; footloose and fancy-free; take a fancy to; tickle one's fancy;.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.