A person who is described as fancy free is someone who has no ties to anyone and no commitments. The phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Fancy free” also means doing anything you want to. The term is often coupled with “footloose”, which makes the idiom “footloose and fancy free,” meaning going wherever one likes and doing whatever one wants to – in other words, being completely free.
To fancy something means to want or desire something. It also means to be attracted to something and can also mean taking a transient liking to someone or something.
Origin of “fancy free”
This is another of Shakespeare’s terms that have been taken up and are used daily more than four centuries later. The first appearance of the term fancy free is in Shakespeare’s 1598 play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft
Quench’d in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1
In Elizabethan England the word ‘fancy’ referred to the state of thinking about love. So, to be ‘fancy free’ was to be free of the torturous state of being in love and thus free to do as one pleased.
The Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson used it in that sense in the poem Locksley Hall:
“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Adding “footloose” to the equation and using it in the amatory sense was an American phenomenon. It first appeared in that context in an 1877 edition of the “Daily Arkansas Gazette”:
“Footloose, fancy free, but of marriageable age.”
Before that, however, in 1869, the term “footloose and fancy free” was used in a political context in “The Courier Journal” from Louisville, Kentucky:
“As we are foot loose and fancy free, with the whole country to pick and choose from…”
Other idioms based on the word “fancy”
Fancy your chances
Strike ones fancy
Suit one’s fancy
Take one’s fancy
Take a fancy to something
Whenever the fancy takes one
Fancy meeting you here
A flight of fancy
A passing fancy
Whenever the fancy takes you
Touch someone’s fancy
Fancy ones chances
Fancy oneself as something
Uses of “Fancy”
To wish for, to want, to desire
- As a noun: A liking for something or someone – a whim, a thought, an idea, a desire: “I have a fancy for her.”
- As a verb: a feeling about someone or something: “I really fancy her.”
- A liking for the idea of doing something or being something or someone: “I don’t fancy myself wearing a tie like that.” He fancies himself as a comedian.”
- A preference for something: “I fancy Federer to win the match,”
- Supposing something: “I think he will be here. I fancied I saw his car in the carpark.” “I fancy you’re not telling me the truth.”
- As a variable noun: An unlikely or imaginary idea: “He is full of childlike fancies about love.” “His accounts are a mixture of fact and fancy.”
- As an exclamation: An expression of surprise or disapproval: “Fancy that!” “Fancy talking like that about someone who has gone out of his way to help her!”