Know your English Education

Are you a fan or a fanatic?

What is the difference between ‘fan’ and ‘fanatic’? (Vikram Das, Delhi)

Considering the fact that ‘fan’ is actually the abbreviated form of ‘fanatic’, there should be little or no difference in meaning between the two words. This, however, is not the case. People in general prefer to be called a ‘fan’ rather than a ‘fanatic’. Both words suggest that the individual is an enthusiastic or a strong supporter of something. When you say that you are a fan of the Chennai Super Kings or the Mumbai Indians cricket team, what you are suggesting is that you enthusiastically support the team, and enjoy watching them play. During the course of a match, you may cheer every time one of your players does well, and boo the star player from the opposition when he walks out to bat. These are some of the ways you show your support for your team. Similarly, when you claim to be a fan of Roger Federer or Virat Kohli, you are stating that you are a great admirer of the individual. You may have lengthy arguments with your friends as to why you believe that he is the best player of all time. The word ‘fan’, in most cases, has a positive connotation.

I had a really good time talking to a few Rajesh Khanna fans.

Radhika is a real science-fiction fan. She’s read all of Asimov’s novels.

Unlike ‘fan’, the word ‘fanatic’ is usually used to show disapproval. A fanatic is someone who is not just enthusiastic, but excessively enthusiastic about something. This individual is single minded, has very strong beliefs, and at times resorts to violence to achieve his goal. The man who stabbed the tennis star, Monica Seles, in Hamburg in 1993, was definitely a fanatic and not a fan. The word is frequently used nowadays in the context of religion and politics; people who have extreme beliefs are said to be fanatics.

Please keep your distance from him. The man is a religious fanatic.

Chethan, like his father, is a cricket fanatic.

The fact that the word is used in the context of religion should not come as a surprise because ‘fanatic’ comes from the Latin ‘fanum’ meaning ‘of or relating to a temple’. With the passage of time, the word began to refer to the pious people who frequented temples. Later, it began to be associated with the frenzied behaviour that very devout individuals exhibited when they were possessed by the divine. Nowadays, fanatic is used with anyone who is excessively enthusiastic about something — not necessarily with the devout. The first ‘a’ in ‘fanatic’ is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’, while the second is pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘fan’, ‘ban’ and ‘tan’. The word is pronounced ‘fe-NA-tik’ with the stress on the second syllable. Many people in India put it on the first.


“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Betrand Russell

The writer taught at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 11:15:15 AM |

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