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Portrait of Fanny Adams from the Illustrated Police News, 1868
Wikimedia Commons

“Sweet Fanny Adams” is an English phrase that has come to mean “nothing at all”.[1]

Fanny Adams was an eight-year-old English girl who was murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker in Alton, Hampshire, on 24 August 1867. He subsequently butchered her body into several pieces, some of which were never found.[2]

At about the same time as Fanny’s murder, the Royal Navy was switching from its traditional fare for sailors of salt tack – barrels of salted beef or pork – to a cheaper tinned meat known as preserved mutton. A gruesome joke started to circulate that the tins actually contained Fanny’s chopped-up remains, perhaps initiated by a rumour that a sailor had found a button in his meal. The new rations were given the girl’s name by the men, and as her initials were the same as a crude phrase meaning “nothing at all”, the phrase “sweet Fanny Adams” or “sweet F. A.” became a more acceptable substitute for “sweet fuck all”.[1]