- to make a hissing or sputtering sound
- Informal to fail, esp. after a successful beginning: often with out
Origin: ME fesilen, to break wind silently, akin to fisten: see feist
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
intransitive verb fiz·zled, fiz·zling, fiz·zles
- To make a hissing or sputtering sound.
- Informal To fail or end weakly, especially after a hopeful beginning.
Origin: Probably from obsolete fise, a breaking wind, from Middle English, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse fīsa, to break wind.Word History: Philemon Holland, in his 1601 translation of Pliny's Natural History, wrote that if asses eat a certain plant, “they will fall a fizling and farting.” Holland's asses provide a vivid example of the original meaning of the word fizzle, which was, in the decorous phrasing of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to break wind without noise.” During the 19th century fizzle took on a related but more respectable sense, “to hiss, as does a piece of fireworks,” illustrated by a quotation from the November 7, 1881, issue of the London Daily News: “unambitious rockets which fizzle doggedly downwards.” In the same century fizzle also took on figurative senses, one of which seems to have been popular at Yale. The Yale Literary Magazine for 1849 helpfully defines the word as follows: “Fizzle, to rise with modest reluctance, to hesitate often, to decline finally; generally, to misunderstand the question.” The figurative sense of fizzle that has caught on is the one most familiar today, “to fail or die out.”