Can a woman be a fellow?
That was what puzzled several people who responded to a tweet last week from U.S. Representative Katie Porter, D-California.
Hi Katie...I’m a fan but just curious...why assumed wounded vet would be a fellow?— Tasha R Wiehe (@TashaWiehe) June 21, 2019
Fellow OR female...— SFLiberal (@gee3knee) June 22, 2019
"fellow" = noun - a man or boy (https://t.co/HW8oNW0Q0q) You don't really mean this, do you?
— Pamela O'Neill (@pamoneill6) June 22, 2019
As others correctly pointed out, fellow here means “a person receiving a fellowship”—a financial grant. This is just one of many historical senses of fellowship; others include “companionship,” “alliance,” “spiritual communication,” “the crew of a vessel,” “trade guild,” and “sexual intercourse.”
In the title of the first volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, fellowship signifies a “company” or “association.”
It’s true that “man, male person” is one of the senses of fellow, but it’s not the original one. The OED includes that sense only after many others, including “partner, companion,” “accomplice,” “comrade,” “a member of a company, college, or society,” and “something that resembles another specified thing.” In Old English, as in the Scandinavian languages from which it derives, fellow meant a companion of either sex; its sources are fé (property, money; related to modern fee) and lag (that which is laid down, an arrangement; related to law). The “man” sense of fellow didn’t come along until Middle English, in the late 14th century. The casual pronunciation feller was first recorded around 1825; fellah – attested from 1864 – was eventually shortened to fella.
Many pizza restaurants call themselves Goodfellas; this one has locations in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. In 15th-century England, a goodfellow was merely a person who enjoyed a good time. A century later, writes Angela Tung in Mental Floss, “the word came to mean ‘thief,’ which would be a convenient segue to the 1964 meaning of a gangster or mafia member. However, the OED says the thief meaning is ‘obsolete,’ so it’s unclear how the underworld sense of goodfella came about.”
The surname Longfellow was a nickname for a tall person who was a good companion.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). “You’re a poet/And you know it/Your feet show it/They’re long fellows.”
“The letters FACS (Fellow, American College of Surgeons) after a surgeon’s name mean that the surgeon’s education and training, professional qualifications, surgical competence, and ethical conduct have passed a rigorous evaluation, and have been found to be consistent with the high standards established and demanded by the College.” – FACS.org
Fellow traveler originally had the innocent meaning of “travel companion.” But after the 1917 Russian Revolution, it re-entered English as a direct translation of Russian poputchik: “a person who sympathizes with and often furthers the ideals and program of an organized group (such as the Communist party) without membership in the group or regular participation in its activities” (Merriam-Webster).
Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon. The 2008 novel is set in Washington during the McCarthy era, when “sexual subversives” like the protagonist were suspected of being Communists or Communist sympathizers.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), a philanthropic, recreational, and self-improvement organization, was first documented in London in 1730; the organization was chartered in the U.S. in 1819, and in 1851 became the first fraternity to admit both men women. The “odd” in “Odd Fellows” has a disputed history; it may have originally referred to people who practiced “odd” trades that were excluded from traditional guilds.
The letters in the links stand for Friendship, Love, Truth.
OddFellows is also the name of a small chain of ice cream shops in New York. They don’t explain the name.
The telecom company Verizon launched adfellows (sic), a paid internship program, in 2017. The company calls it “the first and only industry fellowship offering a diverse, fully integrated immersion experience.” Many Verizon adfellows are women.
And then there are bedfellows, originally (mid-15th century) roommates or bedmates, but also used figuratively for almost as long.
A dual-meaning title. The protagonist of Bob Garfield’s 2012 novel Bedfellows owns a mattress franchise (he’s a bed fellow) and becomes entangled with the Russian mob in Brooklyn (strange bedfellows, or goodfellas). Garfield is the host of public radio’s “On the Media.”
Strange bedfellows—an odd couple, a peculiar alliance or combination—may have been invented by Shakespeare in The Tempest: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” The extension “Politics makes strange bedfellows” was coined in 1850 by the American humorist Charles Dudley Warner. The late political speechwriter and language maven William Safire devoted seven paragraphs to strange bedfellows in Safire’s Political Dictionary (2008 revised edition). Here’es how he ended his entry:
The latent double meaning of the phrase surfaced in the House of Representatives in the ’30s. Former House Speaker Joe Martin recalled a member shouting, “I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that politics makes strange bedfellows. Especially since women got into ’em.”