In this short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald there is a sentence:

It was like in the beginning fifteen years ago when they said he had "fatal facility", and he labored like a slave over every sentence so as not to be like that.

I also found this phrase in some old magazine.

I think "facility" in these cases means "inborn ability" or "fluenty at something". And it's "fatal" for some reason. But what does it mean as a whole?


It is not an expression currently in use. It means an ability that one is born with, not one that is learned. Nowadays instead of saying "He has a fatal facilty." we might say "He is naturally gifted".

It comes from the idea that one has a "fate". It is the gifted author's fate to be able to write well.

For example a magazine from 1926 notes

The worst obstacle an artist need fear to encounter is a fatal facility

(a gifted artist will not learn the skills of practice, and so won't exceed their gift)

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I am always sorry to disagree with @JamesK and very rarely do so, but his answer does not to my mind really explain what might be fatal about facility. The point is that if you find that you can do something in some field of endeavour (write, draw, understand mathematical concepts) without any effort at all, you may fall into the temptation that you need never exert yourself in that field again. In that sense your 'facility' (that is, your easy ability to do well) is "fatal" to your ability to do exceptionally well in that field. You may find that you are 'coasting' - moving along at high speed without exerting yourself. If only you worked harder, how brilliant you could be!

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