a whole nother

language and thoughts about it

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


New Word Creates Kerfuffle

I've been wanting to revive this blog for awhile now to include posts that cover broader topics in linguistics and words (not just whole nother - which, by the way, I've already heard twice today and it's barely 12:30). Every time I think of a potential post, I usually talk myself out of posting it on the grounds that it's insignificant or unimportant.

But that all changed yesterday when I came across an Associated Press story that appeared in the Seattle Times: President Bush talks "kerfuffle". The article begins:
President Bush is known as a plainspoken man, a straight-talker. So how did a word like "kerfuffle" come out of his mouth?
He dropped the K-bomb during an open question and answer session in Cleveland yesterday. According to the transcript found on whitehouse.gov, President Bush responded thus to a question about wiretapping:
No, I appreciate the question. He's talking about the terrorist surveillance program that was -- created quite a kerfuffle in the press, and I owe an explanation to.
The Associated Press story also says that
An aide said he has heard Bush use the word privately before, but not in public.
According to the OED, kerfuffle is as young as the 1940s, but its Scottish variant curfuffle dates back to the early nineteenth century. The shift from curfuffle to kerfuffle probably happened by way of analogy with other words that begin with ker. According to the OED, ker- is
"the first element in numerous onomatopoeic or echoic formations intended to imitate the sound or the effect of the fall of some heavy body, as kerchunk, -flop, -plunk, -slam, -slap, -slash, -souse, -swash, -swosh, -thump, -whop, etc."
It seems as though President Bush has taken very large, heavy object - the wiretapping controversy, in this case - positioning it above a body of water or an unassuming small insect and then dropping said object. Kerplunk. Kerchunk. Kerfuffle.

Wow - yet another example of Britishisms becoming popular Stateside! I'm an American Ex-Pat in London and for years I have been learning, bit by bit, all the little pieces of British English that we don't have or that we use differently in American English. I have noticed, through blogs, online newsarticles and other media that previously British words are being appropriated all over the shop by Americans. Note the growth in the term 'bloody', not to denote the red stuff, but as a mild curse. 'Kerfuffle' is one of my personal favourites, and I hope to see it become more widespread west of the Pond.
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