The word fetish comes from the Portuguese substantive feitiçio, which comes from the Latin noun facticius, meaning an artificial or manufactured object. However, the sense in Portuguese was not so much artificial as artful, and in 15th-century Portugal, the term was applied to religious objects such as relics and rosaries of saints. Consequently, Portuguese explorers of West Africa extended the term feitiçio to functionally similar indigenous “charms and idols.”

In the early 17th century, the word entered the English language from Portuguese; at the same time, the Portuguese word fetissero became in English fetisher or medicine person. In the meantime, the French had borrowed the Portuguese term, which became fétiche. It is this French form that gave rise to the current English spelling fetish and the ...

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