This week’s word is whiffler, a suggestion from Cliodna Johnston, and it’s a good one. Whiffler has two meanings, one historic and one that’s in current use. I’ll start with the modern term.
A modern whiffler is someone who changes their opinions and attitudes easily, especially during an argument or discussion. You can’t pin down a whiffler. They will ease themselves away from you with a quick twist of their beliefs. I suspect we’ve all met someone like this in our lives. Now at least we know what to call them, apart from other more abrasive terms not suitable for polite society.
Whiffler dates back to 1500s Middle English. Its origins lie in the Old English word wifel which meant battle-axe and probably came from German originally. If you’re feeling brave/suicidal you can point this out to your wife the next time you dare to call her “the old battle-axe”. Wifel transmuted into wifle in Middle English and thence to wiffler by 1530 when it meant an armed attendant.
The wiffler carried arms, perhaps a battle-axe, and sometimes a torch to clear the way for a procession. Then wealthy members of society adopted the idea of having their own whiffler to push a way for them through busy streets, a shoving bodyguard if you will.
I can’t help remembering a scene in “The Princess Bride” when Inigo Montoya is desperate to get through a crowd and calls on his giant friend Fezzick to clear the way. “Everybody move!” he booms and sure enough, everybody moves. Fezzick’s whiffling skills were impeccable. He didn’t even need a battle-axe.
Any parent who’s tried to move a child’s pram through a crowd will sympathise. Any city dweller caught behind a group of gawping tourists when rushing to an appointment will recognise the emotions. Yes, we all need a whiffler sometimes. I think they could make a come-back. What do you think?
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,