Origins: Sweet FA

Origins of words and phrases are a point of interest for me, leading me to stumble across the surprising origins of “sweet FA”.

sweet_fa-Fanny-AdamsOriginating from the slang “fanny adams”, meaning mutton, stew or anything worthless, used by British seamen in 1869.

Current use is largely “sweet fuck all” and the meaning remains the same – nothing, worthless.

Fanny Adams was very much a real little girl living in Alton, Hampshire in 1867.

Fanny was only 8 years old on the 24th of August, 1867 when her mother gave her permission to go up to Tanhouse Lane with her friend (Minnie) and younger sister (Elizabeth).

There they met a 29-year-old clerk, who offered Minnie and Elizabeth three halfpence to spend, while offering Fanny a halfpenny if she would accompany him a couple of miles north of Alton, towards Shalden. Fanny accepted the halfpenny but initially refused to accompany the man, who then picked her up and carried her into a nearby field, out of sight of Minnie and Elizabeth.

By 5:00PM, Minnie and Elizabeth had returned home and were questioned by a neighbour regarding Fanny’s whereabouts. Both the neighbour and Fanny’s mother went to Tanhouse Lane. They met the clerk, but after questioning him and finding him to be respectable, they believed his story of giving the girls some sweets and that was all.

By 7:00PM, Fanny was still missing. More neighbours joined the search. They found Fanny’s violently mutilated body in the field.

. Her head and legs had been severed and her eyes removed. Her eyes had been thrown into the River Wey. Her torso was dismembered and the entire contents of her chest and pelvis had been torn out and scattered across the hop field, with some internal organs found further slashed or mutilated.

The police arrested the clerk – Frederick Baker – that very evening. Witnesses and colleagues placed his whereabouts in the area, not returning to the office until 3:00PM. His work colleague reported that while drinking, Baker had mentioned leaving town. The colleague questioned the difficulty he might face getting another job, to which Baker replied: “I could go as a butcher”.

On the 26th of August, Baker’s diary entry from the 24th was discovered. It read:

24th August, Saturday – killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.

Despite Baker’s protests of innocence and his defence arguing insanity and claiming the diary entry was not a confession, he was found guilty by the jury in just 15 minutes.

Baker was executed on Christmas Eve of 1867.

Fanny-AdamsFanny’s headstone reads:

Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered on Saturday August 24th 1867.

Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10 v 28.

The phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” didn’t come in to use until 2 years later, in 1869.

New rations of tinned mutton were introduced to British seamen at this time. The introduction left the seamen unimpressed, leading them to suggest the tins might contain the grisly remains of Fanny Adams.

“Fanny Adams” (or sweet F.A.) soon became slang for mutton, stew and eventually anything considered worthless. In 1889, the phrase was recorded as:

“Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton”

It’s unclear when Fanny Adams evolved to “fuck all”, although stating a correct date is difficult to pinpoint thanks to the politeness of written record until the 20th century.

Walter Downing, an Australian soldier who fought in Europe in the First World War, wrote an glossary of WWI soldier’s slang called Digger Dialects in 1919. He is the first to record the link between F.A. (meaning ‘fuck all’) and Fanny Adams:

“F.A., ‘Fanny Adams’, or ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ – nothing; vacuity.”



Eugenia Falleni – Australian History

This morning I happened to find myself reading about the marriages, lives and deaths of a handful of people from early 1900’s Australia – but it was no ordinary story.

Instead I found a story about both murder and attempted murder, all in the name of keeping a secret.

eugenia_246x550 Eugenia Falleni left home – and a disapproving family – behind to masquerade as Eugene Falleni, and take on work as a cabin boy. Previously, she had spent her teenage years dressing as a man to secure jobs in brickyards and stables.

Her true gender was revealed on board the ship after a drunken slip in conversation with the captain. Unable to convince the captain, Eugenia soon found herself not only shunned by the others on-board (it was considered bad luck to have a female on a ship), but soon found herself being repeatedly raped by the captain. In 1898, Eugenia was pregnant and dumped on the shores of Newcastle, Australia.

That year her daughter – Josephine Crawford Falleni – was born, and given to an Italian-born woman to take care of. Shortly after Josephine’s birth, Eugenia took on a new, male identity of Harry Leo Crawford.

Falleni (now Crawford) continued to take on manual jobs – at the meatworks, the pub and the rubber factory). In 1912, Falleni was employed in Wahroonga (northern Sydney) and met his employer’s housekeeper, Annie Birkett.

Annie had been widowed with a 13-year-old son to support some years before, and when they left Wahroonga for Balmain, Falleni followed them. In 1913, Falleni and Birkett were married and moved to Drummoyne.

All witnesses involved in the case – including Falleni herself – have stated that Annie was unaware her husband was not biologically male for most of their marriage. In fact, it is claimed Annie was completely unaware of this until shortly before her death in 1917 – four years after they were married!

“During those 22 years, Harry legally married twice,” says Mark Tedeschi a New South Wales Crown Prosecutor and Author. “Neither wife was aware they were married to anything other than a full-blooded Aussie male.”

“Clearly, his two wives never saw Harry in the nude. But they had an active sex life.”

The marriage was going well until Josephine – Falleni’s daughter – tracked Falleni down and let slip to the neighbour the secret of Falleni’s identity. Records suggest this is how Annie discovered the truth about her husband.

In early October, 1917, Falleni and Annie took a picnic down to Lane Cove River. According to Falleni’s later statements, the couple had another argument, where Annie indicated she was planning to leave after discovering that “her husband is a woman”. At this point, the records I’ve come across are divided. Some say Falleni struck Annie over the head with a rock, while others suggest Annie slipped, fell backwards, and hit her head, losing consciousness.

By most accounts, though, this wasn’t enough to kill Annie. Falleni panicked at the sight and in an attempt to hide her body, decided to burn it so that it would be unidentifiable.

“…the body was much charred. No definite marks of violence were found, and the stomach contained much food. There was no smell of alcohol, and the organs of the body were in a healthy condition. Death had occurred… probably due to burns.”

While this is a grisly turn of events, it’s worth noting that Falleni would have been absolutely terrified at this point. Early 1900’s anywhere – let alone Australia – was not a society that was kind to someone who was disguising their gender.

For a time, Falleni’s plan was successful. Annie’s body was found, but unidentified. She was initially buried in an unnamed grave.

Falleni continued life as a free man, telling anyone who asked that Annie had run off with another man. In 1919, Falleni met and married Elizabeth King Allison, and again managed an active sex life with her.

By 1920, Annie’s son had divulged information about Falleni’s actions after her death. Falleni had taken him to a notorious suicide spot and tried to coax him to the edge (presumably to push him off). He was also taken out to scrub land at night and asked to dig a hole. The story led to a police interview, and police arrested Falleni on July 5, 1920.

While under arrest, Falleni requested to be placed in the women’s cells. When questioned about this, Falleni finally admitted the truth – that he was a woman. A check by a police doctor confirmed this.

While searching through his belongings, police found a phallus object made of wood and rubber bound:

[Falleni] said: ‘You will find it, something there that I have been using.’

Detective: ‘What is it, something artificial?’

[Falleni] replied: ‘Yes, don’t let her see it.’

Detective: ‘Do you mean to say that she doesn’t know anything about this?’

[Falleni] said his first wife had not known about it either, ‘Not until the latter part of our marriage.’

Falleni herself became an unwilling spectacle, obsessed over by the press, dubbed the ‘Man-Woman case’.

The prosecution case was to suggest that her duplicity in passing herself off as a man was proof of her immoral nature.

Originally sentenced to death for the murder of Annie Birkett, Falleni’s sentence was reduced and she was released in 1931, with the proviso she lived out the rest of her days as a woman.

She assumed the name “Mrs. Jean Ford” and lived in Sydney until 1938 when she was hit by a car and died the next day in hospital.

The case of Falleni is a sad one – both for Annie Birkett, who unwittingly discovered a secret and ultimately died for it – but perhaps particularly for Falleni herself, who never revealed her reasons for choosing to live her life as a male. But worse of all, she had her deepest and most personal secret revealed to the world, and was subjected to the ridicule and fascination of society, labelled a ‘sex fraud’ and an oddity by the press.

If Falleni was transgender – and nobody seems certain – then her imprisonment continued long after leaving jail, forced to live uncomfortably as a gender she may not have identified with.

Further Reading

Eugenia Falleni – State Records NSW

Discovering Eugenia – SBS

Let Them Stay…


I don’t want this blog to be about politics.

But there are things happening in my home country that make me ashamed. I tried to write this entry earlier, but I was too upset, too angry.

Now I sit here as nighttime has fallen, and I am in my own home. I’m free to come and go, free to live a life without restraints and bars. Apparently I earned that right when my ancestors were sent here, as criminals, for such petty crimes as stealing gloves.

I grew up in this country, with an open mind and heart. I went to school and sang our national anthem and was told that it meant something, that the words were a part of Australian beliefs, a part of our way of life.

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

(By the way, the orchestral version of our national anthem – often played for Australian sporting victories – is by an immigrant from Hungary.)

Why, then, is our government treating the innocent of the refugee crisis like this? Why are reports of child and sexual abuse being ignored? Why is the plight and mental health of hundreds of people dismissed while they spend years locked up in off-shore detention?

Naurua At what point are we going to say, well, okay, seeking asylum is a human right. Kids shouldn’t be spending over 900 days in detention. Maybe we should be listening to the countless medical professionals who have expressed genuine distress at the levels of abuse and the mental well-being of these refugees.

This week, churches around the country have announced that if the refugee families at risk of being returned to detention can make their way to them, they will offer them sanctuary as best they can.

Late last year, Australia’s human rights record came under scrutiny from more than 100 countries at the UN.

“We are not role models on issues of asylum, we are pariahs.” – Prof Sarah Joseph, director of the Castan centre for human rights law

We have sustained failure to meet international standards for protecting asylum seekers.

Why, then, are we allowed to continue to treat refugees this way?

How can I sit comfortably knowing that my country – the country with ‘boundless plains to share’ – is perfectly content to lock people away (children, families, people convicted of no crime) and turn their back on claims of abuse? How can any of us be comfortable with the idea that report after report has been written that says we are doing appalling damage to the refugees, to the children?

Why are we content to let innocent babies – babies who were born in this country – be returned to detention? Are they not Australian? Do they not have a right to be safe and free of detention? To be protected from abuse?

I am not proud of my government. I am not proud of being associated with the way Australia is treating refugees. I hope for something to change, and I look to the future – where we will apologise, where we will claim we didn’t know – but we did know. We have no government to represent us. We have no opposition party worth a damn.


A Positive Outlook – 2016

I didn’t really want to post a “2016/New Year” post, and honestly this is something I think about all year round. It’s something that I’ve found actually really helps with my mood and outlook, and so I wanted to share in the hopes it might boost someone else up.

It’s so easy to get down or discouraged. It happens without any effort at all, and it often happens when you’re least expecting it (and your guard is down!). It can be difficult to emerge from being discouraged.

I’ve found actively looking around for good things helps me immensely. This morning on my way to work, I noticed three things that made me feel a whole lot better. I wasn’t particularly down, but going back to work for the first day after a holiday is always rough.

Reasons to smile, found on my way to work:

German Shepherd The German Shepherd

This little (err… big, actually) guy was going for a walk with his human. He was a pretty young dog from what I could tell, and his human was training him while they walked. I love dogs (BIG dogs in particular) and this was the first thing that made my morning happier.

There’s nothing quite like hanging out with a dog. They’re fun and goofy and they just love everything.

My only regret is he was way too far away for me to ask if I could give him a pat.


Kitty Cat Explorer kitten

The second cute/happy I saw was a cat sneaking around underneath what was presumably his house, exploring and playing in the early morning peace and quiet. I like to think he went home afterwards and put his cold little explorer’s feet up against his human and they had a nice, snuggling sleep in afterwards. (This also makes me insanely jealous, but it’s a nice happy kind of envy. :))

welcome The New Students

For a while, on my walk to work, I was beginning to think I’d have to settle for two positive outlook things, but then I saw a jagged line of people queueing up outside a building. Unsure what they were there for, I was dodging around them when I overheard an official-looking guy call out, “Are you here for student orientation? Come over this way to get started!” While I’m kind of surprised they’re starting already (it’s only the 4th!), it made me happy to think about.

A whole group of people who have a brand new year ahead of them of new friends and new experiences. For some of them, it will change their lives in awesome and amazing ways. They might meet their soulmate or embark on a journey to their dream career, or even just meet an amazing new best friend.

It’s not that often in life we get a brand new start at things, and student orientation is a good example of a time when we can start afresh, and leave behind anything we’ve outgrown. I hope they all have a great first day and an even better first year.

That’s my three positive outlook things for this morning, and I already feel better. Sometimes just looking at the positive and letting ourselves think happy thoughts is all we need to avoid a bad day. 🙂

Giant goanna busted scaling houses in NSW

An unmistakably Australian headline hit a few days ago:

‘It was a big bloody big shock’: Giant goanna busted scaling side of NSW house in Thurgoona

Now, I’m not going to lie. As an Aussie, I’m pretty used to sharing my space with different spiders, lizards, grasshoppers, etc. The conversation at our house usually goes:

Me: “Is that a dangerous spider or an OK one?”

Husband: “That one’s OK.”

And then the spider gets left alone to craft its web, or carefully escorted out to the garden. I’ve found myself apologising to spider for accidentally crashing through their web and destroying their hard work.

But this…

Honestly, this would have me a whimpering, terrified wreck. So the story goes this guy in New South Wales had been working in his shed when he spotted a 1.5 metre goanna scaling his house.

For the non-Australians, a “goanna” is a member of the monitor lizard family. They have a prominent place in both Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore.

And, coincidentally, a prominent place in my nightmares. Just take a look at this guy and imaging him scaling your house:

Goanna 1

Oh hai guys

When I was a kid, we used to have family BBQs at this national park, which featured massive goannas and just for added fun, giant moths all over the bathroom doors.

As a fully grown adult, I may or may not have locked myself in our Jeep and ate my lunch after hear rustling in the bushes behind me and realising it was a goanna (much to the other campers’ delight at my antics).

Goanna 2Just in case this guy isn’t terrifying enough on his own, guess what can happen if you lock up in fear and make the terrible mistake of standing still?

“Alarmed goannas can mistake standing humans for trees and attempt to climb off the ground to safety, which is understandably painful, as well as distressing for both man and beast.”