Tag Archives: words the Scottish Gave Us

Feckless and Feckful

Hello,

Some words are best known in one negative variation – disgruntled, gormless, and feckless spring to mind. I mean, how often do we talk about being gruntled, gormed, or feckful? This week I’m taking a look at feckless and feckful.

Feck itself is a popular slang word in the English spoken in Ireland (hiberno-english). It’s used as a very mild version of a similarly spelled curse. Its history and use is explained brilliantly by Stan Carey in this Journal.ie article. He even explains that the Esperanto term for shit is fek, but this is likely to be coincidental. You can read more about hiberno-english and feck, or indeed fecker, on Blather.

However feck, feckless, and feckful actually entered English from Scotland. Feck is a Scottish term that means effect, essentially it was a shortening of the word effect. Robbie Burns and Robert Louise Stevenson both used it to mean a large quantity (“He had a feck o’ books wi’ him”). It reached English in the late 1500s as a term for effect, value, or vigour.

The witch Cailleach Beara felt feckful right up to the moment of her beheading

If somebody has feck then they are feckful – efficient, energetic, and powerful. Equally if they are feckless then they are lacking all those attributes and pretty useless as a result. The English language has plenty of ways to denigrate somebody as useless, but apparently we needed one more as feckless gained ground and feckful fell by the wayside over time to the point where we only really use feckless now.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Kerfuffle

Hello,

With the excitement of the book launch for “Words The Sea Gave Us” mostly behind me now it’s time for a non-nautical word this week – kerfuffle.

A kerfuffle is defined as “noise, excitement, and argument” (thanks to the Cambridge Dictionary, the pronunciation is available there too). Some other dictionaries note the word is informal British English. Apart from the argument, that sums up last week for me.

I guessed kerfuffle would be an old word but Etymology Online, usually reliable on dates, says it only entered English in the 1970s, was used with a variant spelling (kafuffle) from the 1940s, and in Canadian English from the 1930s.

The spelling variation leads us back further in the word’s history as the previous version is carfuffle, when it was being used by Scottish writers. The car to ka or ker change is pretty natural as there is no letter K in the alphabet for Scots Gaelic (or Irish Gaeilge for that matter), so you have English speakers adjusting the spelling when they adopted the word.

The fuffle part, however, didn’t change and it gets us further back in time. Fuffle dates back to the 1500s and was a Scottish verb meaning to disorder or dishevel (can one be hevelled, I wonder?).

The Scottish roots explain, in my opinion at least, the connection to Canadian English as the point where carfuffle crossed into English and became kerfuffle. Many Scottish emigrants settled in the eastern coastal regions of Canada during the 1800s. Apparently if you visit areas like Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island you’ll find plenty of Gaelic accents and language influences. I hope to explore that in person myself some day.

I enjoyed the kerfuffle of the book launch last week and I’m very happy to welcome new blog readers who found Wordfoolery as a result <waves>. A few readers have already been kind enough to review the book favourably, thank you, it really helps the visibility of the book online, even if it’s only a few words.

Those of you who read ebooks on Apple devices (phone, tablet, macbook) may find it worthwhile to hop over to my twitter account as I’m currently running a giveaway of a free Apple Books / iBooks edition. It’s free to enter and open internationally in any country where such books are sold (US, UK, Canada, Ireland etc).

Last week also found me participating in my first ever radio interview when SinĂ©ad Brassil of LMFM radio kindly asked me to chat about my books and the history of words. She podcasted the interview so if you’re curious you can listen to it here. It’s about 15 minutes long and includes the history of boycotts, booby traps, and more. My teens are now referring to me as a word history celebrity and hoping their friends don’t find out. Sigh.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Wearing My Huffle-Buffs

Hello,

This week I’ve been wearing my huffle-buffs often, it’s probably time I explained that term.

My gardening huffle-buffs, beside the peas & beans bed

According to Haggard Hawks (on twitter and on their website), huffle-buffs is “an old Scots dialect word for worn out, comfortable clothes”. As worn out, comfortable clothes are my favourites, this particular term stuck in my daily usage as soon as I came across it. It’s much better than the alternatives – slobs, lounge-wear, athleisure – in my opinion.

At the moment, because we’re still observing a “stay at home” rule in Ireland, my spring garden is getting more attention than usual and my gardening huffle-buffs (a fisherman’s smock from Kinsale, Co. Cork which is 18 years old and a faded pair of eco-cotton trousers from Gudrunsjoden which is 16 years old) have become my daily uniform as I battle back the bramble invasion in the cut flower bed and do my annual vegetable growing tasks. I’m sowing & tending three varieties of tomatoes, garlic, courgette, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, peas, borlotti, runner beans, cucumbers, and peppers this year along with my ongoing crops of herbs, apples, damson plums, hazelnuts, grapes, wild garlic, rhubarb). The tough denim smock is particularly handy when a) sunburn can be an issue and b) you have nettles and brambles ready to attack you at every turn.

Huffle-buffs appear in Scottish dictionary listings from the early 1800s so it’s not as old as you might think, unless it just took a while to make it into the dictionary. Huffle on its own can mean to blow in gusts of wind.

If you go hunting for huffle-buffs’ origin you will get side-tracked into the origin of the house of Helga Hufflepuff in the Harry Potter books and I can’t help thinking that may be a fair connection as although JK Rowling was born near Bristol (and hence is English) she wrote a considerable amount of the first book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps the local vernacular snuck into Hufflepuff’s name? Alternatively Helga must have been a very windy witch to have two words for gust in her surname – huffle and puff.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling in your comfiest huffle-buffs,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I’ve made it to 19,946 words on “The Librarian’s Secret Diary” in CampNaNo so far this month. It will be launching on Channillo.com in May. My two other books “Hamster Stew” and “Nit Roast” are already completed and fully available to read there (first chapter is free to read).