Word Confusion: Foul versus Fowl

Posted November 28, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

By fair means or fowl, er, foul, we’ll feast today! It sort of depends on when you got the turkey out of the freezer, and if you remembered to haul out the gizzards and livers and hearts from its cavity.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Foul Fowl
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Nook Logan Foul Ball” by yomanimus on FlickrMattingly23 at en.wikipedia under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Nook Logan, of the Erie SeaWolves, hitting a foul ball during a game against the Reading Phillies on July 2, 2006.

“Turkey” is Yathin S Krishnappa’s own work is under the CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A turkey, on the hoof, so to speak

Part of Grammar:
Adverb; Adjective; Noun;
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: fouls
Past tense or past participle: fouled
Gerund or present participle: fouling

Plural: fowl or fowls or domestic fowl

Contrary to the rules

  • [Sports] In foul territory

Offensive to the senses, especially through having a disgusting smell or taste or being unpleasantly soiled

  • [Informal] Very disagreeable or unpleasant
  • [Of the weather] Wet and stormy
  • [Sailing (of wind or tide)] Opposed to one’s desired course

Wicked or immoral

  • [Of language] obscene or profane
  • Done contrary to the rules of a sport

Containing or charged with noxious matter


  • [Foul with] clogged or choked with
  • [Nautical (of a rope or anchor)] Entangled
  • [Nautical (of a ship’s bottom)] Encrusted with algae, barnacles, or other marine growth
  • [Printing (of a first copy or proof)] Defaced by corrections

[Sports] An unfair or invalid stroke or piece of play, especially one involving interference with an opponent

  • A collision or entanglement in riding, rowing, or running
  • Short for foul ball

[Informal, dated] A disease in the feet of cattle

Verb, intransitive:
Become entangled in this way

Verb, transitive:
Make foul or dirty


  • Disgrace or dishonor
  • Of an animal] Make something dirty with excrement
  • [Foul oneself (of a person)] defecate involuntarily

[Sports] Commit a foul against an opponent

  • [Baseball] Hit a foul ball

[Of a ship] Collide with or interfere with the passage of another

  • Cause a cable, anchor, or other object to become entangled or jammed
A gallinaceous bird kept chiefly for its eggs and flesh

A domestic cock or hen

  • The domestic fowl is descended from the wild red junglefowl of Southeast Asia
  • Any other domesticated bird kept for its eggs or flesh, e.g., the turkey, duck, goose, and guineafowl
  • The flesh of birds, especially of the domestic cock or hen, as food
  • Poultry
  • Birds collectively, especially as the quarry of hunters
  • [Archaic] A bird
If a batter hits a bunt foul with two strikes, he is out.

What is that foul odor?

I can’t stand his foul breath.

The news had put Michelle in a foul mood.

Murder Most Foul is an anthology including Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and W. Somerset Maugham.

Kicking, tripping, jumping, charging, or tackling an opponent in a manner considered to be careless, reckless, or using excessive force is considered a foul.

This swampy water is foul.

The land was foul with weeds.

The bottom is fouled.

It’s a foul!

Verb, intransitive:
It fouled.

Verb, transitive:
It fouled the line.

Factories that fouled the atmosphere.

Those birds are fouling the water tank.

Make sure that your pet never fouls the sidewalk.

Carter fouled into the glove of Boggs.

Watch out for driftwood which might foul up the engine.

George keeps fowl.

We always eat some sort of fowl for Thanksgiving.

Adjective: foul-mouthed, foul-smelling, foul-tasting, foul-tempered, fouler, foulest, overfoul, unfoul
Adverb: foully, overfoully
Noun: foul-up, fouled, foulness, overfoulness
Noun: fowler
Phrasal Verb
foul out
foul something up
foul up
History of the Word:
Old English fūl, of Germanic origin and related to the Old Norse fúll, meaning foul, the Dutch vuil meaning dirty, and the German faul meaning rotten, lazy.

From an Indo-European root shared by the Latin pus, the Greek puos meaning pus, and the Latin putere meaning to stink.

Old English fugol and originally the general term for a bird.
It’s of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch vogel and German Vogel.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“Buerzeldruese” is Ralf Pfeifer’s own work, 14:34, 26 March 2009 (CET) under the GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

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