1 of 2


fai·​né·​ant fā-nā-ˈäⁿ How to pronounce fainéant (audio)
plural fainéants fā-nā-ˈäⁿ(z) How to pronounce fainéant (audio)
: an irresponsible idler


2 of 2


fai·​né·​ant fā-nā-ˈäⁿ How to pronounce fainéant (audio)
variants or faineant
: idle and ineffectual : indolent

Did you know?

You've probably guessed that fainéant was borrowed from French; it derives from fait-nient, which literally means "does nothing," and ultimately traces back to the verb faindre, or feindre, meaning "to feign." (The English word feign is also descended from this verb, as are faint and feint.) Fainéant first appeared in print in the early 17th century as a noun meaning "an irresponsible idler," and by 1854 it was also being used as an adjective. As its foreignness suggests, fainéant tends to be used when the context calls for a fancier or more elegant word than inactive or sluggish.

Word History



borrowed from French, going back to Middle French fai-neant, from fait "does, makes" (third person singular of faire "to make, do") + neant "nothing, nil" (probably going back to Vulgar Latin *ne … gentem "no people, no one"), alteration by folk etymology of faignant, feignant, present participle of feindre "to dissemble, pretend to be, evade, shirk" — more at feign


borrowed from French — more at fainéant entry 1

First Known Use


1619, in the meaning defined above


1854, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of fainéant was in 1619


Dictionary Entries Near fainéant

Cite this Entry

“Fainéant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fain%C3%A9ant. Accessed 14 Jul. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!