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From Middle English fastnes, fastnesse (immovableness, stability; firmness, solidness; secure attachment; constancy; obstinacy; something giving firmness or strength; of sleep: soundness; of a wound: healing; assurance, confirmation) [and other forms],[1] from Old English fæstnes (fastness, firmness, stability; resolution; tenacity; vigour; firmament; fortification) [and other forms], from fæst (firm, stable; constant) (from Proto-Germanic *fastuz (firm, fixed; secure); see further at that entry) + -nes (suffix forming abstract nouns denoting a quality or state). The English word may be analysed as fast +‎ -ness.[2]



fastness (countable and uncountable, plural fastnesses)

  1. (uncountable) The quality or state of being fast (in various senses).
    1. The quality or state of being strongly attached; firmness, secureness, tenacity.
      • 1603, Michel de Montaigne, “Of Lyers”, in John Florio, transl., The Essayes [], book I, London: [] Val[entine] Simmes for Edward Blount [], OCLC 946730821, page 16:
        [T]he thing, as it is, having firſt taken vp her ſtand in the memory, and there by the way of knowledge and witting, imprinted it-ſelfe, it were hard it ſhould not repreſent it ſelfe to the imagination, diſplacing and ſupplanting falſehood, which therein can have no ſuch footing, or ſetled faſtneſſe: []
      • 1699 October 25 (Gregorian calendar); first published 1715, Robert South, “A Discourse Preached at Christ-Church, Oxon, before the University, October 15. 1699.”, in Twelve Sermons Preached at Several Times, and upon Several Occasions, volume IV, London: [] G. James, for Jonah Bowyer [], OCLC 863512731, page 523:
        [T]his is the ſure, infallible Teſt of Love, that the Meaſure of its Strength is to be taken by the Faſtneſs of its Hold.
      1. (specifically) The ability of a dye to withstand fading.
    2. The quality or state of moving quickly; quickness, rapidity, swiftness.
      • 1959, Walt Kelly, Pogo, Sunday, September 13 comic strip (→ISBN, p. 251):
        [Frog:] Why are all of us fleein'? What dire peril threatens our sylvan fastness?
        [Bug:] Just run! Your fastness shouldn't be too slow.
    3. The quality or state of having an extravagant lifestyle or immoral habits.
    4. (archaic) Of a fortress or other place: the quality or state of being secure from access or attack; safety, security.
    5. (obsolete) The quality or state of being firm, hard, or solid; firmness, hardness, solidity.
      • a. 1569 (date written), Roger Ascham, “[The Second Booke Teachyng the Ready Way to the Latin Tong]”, in Margaret Ascham, editor, The Scholemaster: Or Plaine and Perfite Way of Teaching Children, to Vnderstand, Write, and Speake, the Latin Tong, [], London: [] John Daye, [], published 1570, OCLC 228713506, folio 44, verso:
        Which was brought to paſſe I beleue, [] by a good way of Epitome, in binding him ſelfe to tranſlate meros Atticos Oratores, and ſo to bring his ſtyle, from all lowſe groſneſſe, to ſoch firme faſtnes in latin, as is in Demoſthenes in Greeke.
  2. (countable) Something that is fast, or that causes someone or something to be fast (in various senses).
    1. (also figuratively) A fortified or secure place; a fortress, a stronghold.
      • 1623, Iohn Speed [i.e., John Speed], “Henry the Third, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandie, Guyen, and Aquitaine, &c. The Fortie-sixt Monarch of England, His Raigne, Acts, and Issue.”, in The Historie of Great Britaine vnder the Conqvests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Iohn Beale, for George Hvmble, [], OCLC 150671135, book 9, paragraph 71, page 623, column 1:
        [I]f the Welſh compelled by famine ventred out of their ſtrengthes or faſtneſſes, in or about Snowdon, the Garriſon Souldiers of Gannocke were ready to intercept and kill them; []
      • 1803, John Browne Cutting, “A Succinct History of Jamaica”, in R[obert] C[harles] Dallas, The History of the Maroons, from Their Origin to the Establishment of Their Chief Tribe at Sierra Leone: [], volume I, London: [] A[ndrew] Strahan, [], for T[homas] N[orton] Longman and O. Rees, OCLC 1238111891, page xxxviii:
        [T]he ſlaves that yet remained in the faſtneſſes of Jamaica, attached to the Spaniſh, and hoſtile to the Engliſh ſettlers, continued to be troubleſome, and at times formidable.
      • 1912 February–July, Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Under the Moons of Mars”, in The All-Story, New York, N.Y.: Frank A. Munsey Co., OCLC 17392886; republished as “Child-raising on Mars”, in A Princess of Mars, Chicago, Ill.: A[lexander] C[aldwell] McClurg & Co., 1917, OCLC 419578288, page 69:
        The incubators are built in remote fastnesses, where there is little or no likelihood of their being discovered by other tribes.
      • 1919, W[illiam] Somerset Maugham, chapter IV, in The Moon and Sixpence, [New York, N.Y.]: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers by arrangement with George H. Doran Company, OCLC 365836, page 26:
        When she came to know writers it was like adventuring upon a stage which till then she had known only from the other side of the footlights. She saw them dramatically, and really seemed herself to live a larger life because she entertained them and visited them in their fastnesses.
      • 1925 April, Virginia Woolf, “On Not Knowing Greek”, in The Common Reader, 2nd edition, London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, [], published November 1925, OCLC 504885829:
        When we read Chaucer, we are floated up to him insensibly on the current of our ancestors' lives, [] But the Greeks remain in a fastness of their own.
      • 1959, David P. Morgan, editor, Steam’s Finest Hour, Milwaukee, Wis.: Kalmbach Publishing Co., OCLC 1110098557, page 60:
        Their mission in life was to tote bituminous coal out of the mountain fastness of West Virginia and move it west to the gateways of Deepwater, Columbus and Toledo and east to tidewater at Hampton Roads.
    2. (obsolete except Britain, regional) Something used to fasten or tie; a fastener or fastening.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ fastnes(se, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “fastness, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2021; “fastness, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.