Fringes, Fringes Everywhere

By Maeve Maddox

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Lately I’ve been struck by the frequency with which I encounter the word fringe in the media.

I can recall a time when my only associations for the word were with the trim on my mother’s lampshades and the term “fringe benefits.”

Fringe entered English as frenge from French with the meaning, “an ornamental bordering, consisting of a narrow band to which are attached threads of silk, cotton, etc., either loose or formed into tassels or twists.”

In the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1400), the hero’s saddle had “mony golde frenges.”

By the seventeenth century, fringe, originally an ornamental border, could refer to any kind of border perceived to exist at the edge of something else, for example, “the fringes of a circle” and “a thin fringe of timber surrounding the margin of a lake.”

Figuratively, fringe came to refer to the edges of anything:
the fringes of greatness
the fringes of repentance
the fringes of a conspiracy
the fringes of Edinburgh

In the nineteenth century, fringe came to mean what US speakers call “bangs”: a portion of the front hair brushed forward and cut short.

His thick, dark-brown mop of hair falls in a cherubic fringe over his forehead.

Her hair short, blonde, with an overgrown fringe swept to the side of her face.

Here are some current uses of fringe as noun and adjective.

fringe athletes

Arsenal call off Lemar chase as Wenger switches focus to cutting fringe players from their bill.

I think we would be taking a risk bringing in fringe players from the big teams.

A fringe player is a player on a team that is not a regular starter in the first team. They may not even get on the bench often – they are at the fringe of the team, the edge.

fringe benefits

The audit said Adams might have violated IRS tax code on taxable fringe benefits.

State employee salaries and fringe benefits will be added in the coming months.

A fringe benefit is any nonwage payment or benefit (e.g., pension plans, profit-sharing programs, vacation pay, and company-paid life, health, and unemployment insurance programs) granted to employees by employers. It may be required by law, granted unilaterally by employers, or obtained through collective bargaining.

golf fringe

As if playing to the crowd, Guan drained his putt from the fringe for a birdie.

He advanced it to the fringe, then left himself with almost five feet for bogey.

In golf, the fringe is the section of the fairway, typically forming an apron shape at the front, that links the green and the fairway together. The fringe is usually cut at an interim depth to the shorter green and the longer fairway, but all should allow for a ball to roll across the surface.

urban fringe

The district includes Foulsham, Aylsham, plus Norwich fringe towns and villages.

An example of this is the high demand for dwellings in the city fringe suburbs.

The urban fringe, sometimes also called the “urban-rural fringe,” is the area of land where town meets country.

fringe religion

Our family is Unitarian Universalist — a fringe religion that is, in some ways, as difficult to describe as it is to say.

Children born and raised on the religious fringe are a distinctive yet largely unstudied social phenomenon.

The term “fringe religion” is not easily defined. The term can refer to Mormonism, Shia Muslims, Odinists, cargo cults, or any set of beliefs out of the mainstream. And even mainstream Christian denominations, like Catholics and Baptists, have their “fringes.” Generally, religious believers on the fringe disagree with conventional teachings about morality and the divine.

fringe theory

In the 1950s, plate tectonics was a fringe theory.

Before Copernicus, the idea that the earth revolved around the sun was a fringe theory.

A fringe theory is an idea or a viewpoint which differs from the accepted scholarship of the time within its field.

Although more fringes remain, I’ll close with “lunatic fringe.”

lunatic fringe

We need two parties that try to appeal to the middle third of the electorate, and ignore the 10% lunatic fringe on each extreme.

But the idea that language has a terrible power over the brain, and can be easily manipulated by the powerful, is in no way limited to a lunatic fringe.

The OED defines “lunatic fringe” as “a minority group of adherents to a political or other movement or set of beliefs.”

Merriam-Webster defines the term as “the members of a usually political or social movement espousing extreme, eccentric, or fanatical views.

Teddy Roosevelt is often mentioned as having popularized the term in the political context:

There is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.

Earlier than the political use, however, the term “lunatic fringe” referred to a hairstyle.

LUNATIC Fringe” is the name given to the fashion of cropping the hair and letting the ends hang down over the forehead. —Wheeling Daily Register, July 1875.

“The girls!” exclaimed Miss Lizzie, lifting her eyebrows till they met the “lunatic fringe” of hair which straggled uncurled down her forehead. —Oliver’s Optics Magazine, February 1874.

Note: Oliver Optic’s Magazine: Our Boys and Girls, was a nineteenth-century American children’s magazine published in Boston from 1867 to 1875.

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