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Famish likely developed as an alteration of Middle English famen, meaning "to starve." The Middle English word was borrowed from the Anglo-French verb afamer, which etymologists believe came from Vulgar Latin affamare. We say "believe" because, while no written evidence has yet been found for the Vulgar Latin word affamare, it would be the expected source for the Anglo-French verb based on the combination of the Latin prefix ad- ("to" or "toward") and the root noun fames ("hunger"). In contemporary English, the verb famish is still used on occasion, but it is considerably less common than the related adjective famished, which usually means "hungry" or "starving" but can also mean "needy" or "being in want."
Examples of FAMISH
"At first Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion."
— Herman Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener," 1853
"Eating healthy regularly is more important than famishing to shed a few pounds."
— Emily Long, The Daily Vidette: Illinois State University, 23 Aug. 2017
Test Your Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks to complete a word for the practice of eating in
small amounts and of chewing one's food thoroughly: F _ e _ c _ _ _ ism.