What’s this guy got to do with English?

This guy is “Guy Fawkes”, and English was his mother tongue. His death is gruesomely celebrated in England every 5th November when ordinary people mindlessly burn effigies of him on bonfires.

Guy Fawkes

What did Guy Fawkes do to deserve such venom? He plotted with others to assassinate the king of England (and of Scotland) by blowing up Parliament during its state opening in 1605. Their motives were politico-religious… But they failed. Their plans were leaked and Guy Fawkes was the one conspirator found guarding the gunpowder under the House of Lords – all 36 barrels of it, enough to send the king and Parliament to kingdom come. Guy Fawkes was questioned but refused to speak, except to give a false name – John Johnson. Eventually the king signed orders for him to be tortured (“gently at first”). An observer (Sir Edward Hoby) noted “Since Johnson’s being in the Tower, he beginneth to speak English.” “The Tower” was the Tower of London, specifically, in this case, its torture chambers. In fact, under the effects of torture – probably the rack – Guy Fawkes broke and revealed not only his own true name but the names of his co-conspirators.

The mask you see in the photo is a representation of Guy Fawkes. This particular representation, designed by illustrator David Lloyd, first appeared in Alan Moore’s comic book series V for Vendetta (starting 1982) and subsequent film adaptation (2006). The story concerns resistance to a repressive regime set in England in the then not-too-distant future. The mask has since come to be used as a symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous, and more broadly as a symbol of popular protest against corruption and government sleaze and of resistance to authoritarian Western governments (although its import and use is banned by some Western-leaning regimes such as Saudi Arabia).


  • gruesomely (adverb): in a horrifying way; in a grisly way
  • effigy (noun): a model of a person
  • bonfire (noun): a large fire outside for burning rubbish or as a celebration
  • venom (noun):  extreme bitterness and malice or ill-will
  • gunpowder (noun): a substance that can be made to explode (blow up)
  • to kingdom come (phrase): into the next life
  • torture (verb): deliberately inflict severe pain on a person or animal
  • beginneth (verb): begins (old English)
  • the rack (noun): a machine for torturing people by stretching them by the hands and feet
  • conspirator (noun): a person who conspires or plots
  • vendetta (noun): a blood feud seeking vengeance; a long and bitter fight
  • sleaze (noun): immoral and corrupt activity
  • candy says:

    it so helpful to me that I not only learned about the significate story but also some new words I haven’t noticed.

  • Marcelo says:

    Nice website to learn English and explanation about the mask. Keep going guys! Thanks!!!

  • Omer says:

    That has meant many to me . thanks alot.

  • Joe says:

    Thanks, Peter, for your comment about the word “vendetta”. You are right that the origin of the English word “vendetta” is Italian (from the Latin “vindicta” meaning “vengeance”). Like most languages, English has many words that have been imported from other languages. Imported words do not always retain the exact meaning of the original word, and this can lead to a lot of confusion. A word that is spelled and/or pronounced the same as a word in another language but has a different meaning is called a “false friend”. While “vendetta” in English does retain the original idea of “vengeance”, it refers more to the action/process of exacting revenge rather than to the revenge/vengeance itself. It is also used in the sense of a “prolonged bitter quarrel”. I will amend WordChecker to include both senses for clarity. Thank you.


    Hi there: Excuse me for disagreeing with Wordchecker.
    Vendetta is an italian word and its meaning is: Revenge, “Vengeance”, not a long and bitter fight.
    The Maffia uses/used “vendetta” against whoever they thought to be an enemy.
    The long and bitter fight could be the result of a vendetta but that is not the exact meaning.

  • ston says:

    At last I got so far as to click on the link at EC and here I made this surprising discovery of this gem called Josef’s blog! I should have done it long ago!but even now am very happy to know about it.

  • John says:

    At last I got so far as to click on the link at EC and here I made this surprising discovery of this gem called Josef’s blog! I should have done it looong ago!

    About Guy Fawkes, I grew up in a country where GF was celebrated every 5th November each year. But to the chagrin of many boys and myself, the government banned the fireworks when I was still in High School (why do boys love fire and explosions so much?!). I can still remember how mad we were about this ‘unfair and partisan’ decision (they never asked our opinions)! But years later I could understand the decision and was grateful for the government’s foresight (though they’d probably only followed the example of the US!). A developed and civilized nation should control the use of fireworks by its citizens and only allow it at specified venues and at specified times! The disadvantages by far outweigh the benefits of fireworks (are there really anything good about it?!).

    I watched the “V for Vendetta” movie a few months ago; quite gruesomely bloody in particular as the main character (Guy Fawkes with the mask!) was portrayed as one very skillful with knives and he killed many cops with those knives. But typical as with most movies, the script was adapted to suit our modern requirements and though GF did die (shot by the cops), parliament had gone up with a big bang! Though I didn’t appreciate some of the scenes, I must admit it was still quite entertaining!

    Thanks for an interesting blog entry, Josef!

  • MrSmith says:

    “ordinary people mindlessly burn effigies” we are taught in scholl about Guy Fawks, so we know who he is and why we burn him. It was just one of the attempts by Catholics to defeat the, Protestant, U.K.

  • parviz says:

    Dear Sirs,
    I am writing to thank u for the nice meaningful story with new words necessary to be known by english learners.

  • Ali Ahmad Azaad says:

    It is my first time intering in such a great website

    I am really learning something from you all


  • leonor Alcantara says:

    very interesting article we should know better history and background thank you your information! best regards, L A

  • Iuliana says:

    Very interesting article. I didn’t know the story.Thank you.

  • guy fakes says:

    Thank you for covering my story, I thank toi human kind except for those who burn my effigies for they don’t know the reasons behind my action long time ago.

    The king and its parliament has tortured the civil they such people with high tax

  • Gustine says:

    What does this guy have to do with English? This guy who call himself Guy had English as his mother tongue, this means he was English.

  • Pedro says:

    Thank you for this information,I knew a little about the story because i saw the film adaptation and was a good and interesting movie,thanks for the vocabulary i learned new words that I didn’t knew before.

  • Daniel says:

    Incidentally, Guy Fawkes image and mask is also the mascot of the U.S. Explosive Ordinance Disposal community.

  • Darina says:

    Thank you for interesting and cognitive article.I never knew that under that mask lies a great story. Thank you for the article.

  • Sanne says:

    Thanks for the heads up. Always knew what Guy Fawkes was about but didn’t know the ‘mask’ was related.
    Interesting how the mask is now representing the voice of the millions, once thought to be an easy take-over by the evils of this world…but now finding the ‘mask’ of Anonymous being a representation of a far greater adversary than they ever thought possible.

  • Gui says:

    It’s amazing! A few days ago I was trying to find some info about this mask. And today the info is in my e-mail! Thank you a lot!

  • Nasser says:

    Thank you for the short, but interesting story. I learned some new words by reading this.

  • son says:

    Oh My god!
    it is good for hot city to ware mask face SPF30+++ not Sunburn

    I love it !!!!

  • Marie says:

    Thank u for interesting update. I saw this guy many times on TV but I didn’t know why before

  • Daniel says:

    Very good to know more about the plot under the history of this mask , more known as “Anonymous personality”, widespread all over the world nowadays. For ceratain, Sir.Guy Fawkes gone through bad times in the hands of executioners, to get the point to reveal his secrets, including his own name. Congrats. for the information for us – learners of English – this, besides help us acquire more vocabulary, let us acquainted with the own historical scenery of the English language.

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