from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A Muslim religious mendicant.
- n. A Hindu ascetic or religious mendicant, especially one who performs feats of magic or endurance.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A faqir.
- n. an ascetic mendicant, especially one who performs feats of endurance or apparent magic
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- n. an Oriental Muslim or Hindu religious ascetic or begging monk who is regarded as a holy man or a wonder worker.
- n. See faker.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. A Mohammedan religious mendicant or ascetic “who is in need of mercy, and poor in the sight of God, rather than in need of worldly assistance” (Hughes, Dict. of Islam).
- n. A Hindu devotee or ascetic; a yogi.
- n. A misspelling of faker.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. a Muslim or Hindu mendicant monk who is regarded as a holy man
He could read the fellow thoroughly, and knew him to be what is commonly called a fakir, pure and simple.
Mark Liberman of Language Log has an enjoyably discursive post on the use and misuse of the word fakir, properly 'a Muslim religious mendicant' (it's from Arabic faqi:r 'poor') but with an extended meaning 'Hindu ascetic or religious mendicant, especially one who performs feats of magic or endurance' (in the words of the AHD definition); when I asked my wife what image she associated with the word, she said "a guy lying on a bed of nails," which fits the second sense exactly and I think would be the most common answer if you took a poll.
Jesus Christ is called a fakir-that is one expression.
They claim supernatural powers to confer good and invoke evil, and the curse of a fakir is the last misfortune that an honest Hindu cares to bring upon himself, for it means a failure of his harvests, the death of his cattle by disease, sickness in his family and bad luck in everything that he undertakes.
[FN#82] The Arabic word fakir means literally, "a poor man;" but it would appear, from what follows, that Uns el Wujoud had disguised himself as a religious mendicant and was taken for such by the people of the castle.
The beetle in his eyes is no ordinary beetle, but one of the gods incarnated in the insect for this special purpose; and the fakir is a holy ascetic, who has acted in this case by the order of the same god.
If I try to cast my mind back to the time before I knew Arabic, I suppose I thought 'fakir' meant 'yogi, swami, thin person with straggly beard who lies in bed of nails'; but I'm pretty sure I always saw the connexion with 'faker' as just an accident.
I didn't at first know 'fakir' was simply faqi:r 'poor', but it was obviously an Oriental word referring to some specific religious class, unrelated to the English word.
I don't think that this usage is really current, but from the OED's quotations, and some others that I've found, it does seem that "fakir" was used in the meaning of "dishonest street vendor" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
When I read Lynch's use of "fakir" in reference to MacPherson, I thought it was just a mistake, either a typo or an "eggcorn".
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