PC 275     Kerfuffle et al

I have scribbled in past postcards of my observations of coincidental stuff, for example seeing The Pink Panther in a dream and later that same morning stencilled onto the bow of a dingy, or talking about St Kilda (PC 81 And the Buses Came in Threes October 2016) over supper with Ted & Richard and seeing a huge article about that particular island the very next day in The Times. I have to assume that sometimes my brain is somehow more tuned to seeing the connections than if it’s in its normal ‘half-asleep’ state.

Gathering ideas for this week’s missive, I had noted some words that I don’t usually use but love their combination of letters and implied meaning, like Kerfuffle. Pulling these together last Saturday, I paused to read the newspaper and, after the pages concerning the Ukrainian war and its possible outcomes, scanned Rose Wild’s Feedback. It was as if she knew what my latest postcard might be about, more wonderful words. She started: “Ciaran Bruton from Galway sprung a new word on me this week. ‘First Max Hastings and now Matthew Parris’, he complained, had been ‘fumfering about negotiating with Putin.’ What could this mean?” 

She continued: “Fumfering is an onomatopoeic sort of word …… and my online dictionary defines it as ‘to waffle, to stutter, to mutter, to putter aimlessly.” There we go again, Onomatopoeia, another word that I do not use regularly but one I had already mentioned in my draft for today’s PC. ‘An onomatopoeic word is one whose meaning is only their sound, as for example bang, buzz, hiss, sizzle, boom (of a firework exploding), tick tock (of a clock see PC 274 Tick Tock) or ding dong (of a door bell). Animal sounds are mostly onomatopoeic – quack, moo, miaow, cluck.’ So I agree with Rose that fumfering is a sort of onomatopoeic word (Big of me huh?)!

My draft scribbles had started:

Within the space of three days recently, I saw ‘hodgepodge’, ‘hoich’ and ‘commingles’ and would be the first to admit these are not words in common usage. The first was used by the writer of an obituary to describe someone’s early years – ‘a confused mixture of jobs and tasks, a real hodgepodge’. It can of course be written hotch potch but I think hodgepodge has a certain sound that conveys warmth as well as confusion.

While I am here, ‘hoich’ means to move or pull abruptly as in ‘she hoiched her child from behind her to introduce him to the headmaster.’ Commingles means mixing or blending but to hear it raises this meaning to a whole different level! One of my favourite words is discombobulated, meaning ‘confused and disconcerted’; sometimes I wake up feeling discombobulated, although just getting my tongue around the word helps to relieve the symptoms – well that and a cup of coffee!

Rose added a couple of new words found in on-line dictionaries but I know they won’t be in my 1962 Oxford Illustrated: ‘hockety’ meaning ‘infirm, lame or rickety’ and the Irish unisex greeting ‘a chara’ meaning ‘my friend, my dear’. However in my dictionary are two words I love as they do exactly what they say on the tin: ‘gawp’ and ‘desultory’!!      

And here are two words whose two meanings are completely unrelated: rumpty tumpty   – ‘complete nonsense’ or ‘a bit of rumpty tumpty’ meaning having occasional sexual intercourse: funny language huh! Writing of words and their uses, how come the word ‘Fuck’, a slang word for the physical act of making love, in itself an intimate personal and mainly pleasurable experience, is also used as an expletive? Meaning whatever you want it to mean: “Fuck! I have deleted that draft email!” “Fuck! I have missed the bus!” But ‘Shit!’, another exclamatory swear word, is disassociated from its biological meaning, which incidentally helps to convey true depth of tone.

Some months ago a crossword clue asked for the name of a tropical rainforest mammal related to the Raccoon. My knowledge of little animals is not great so I Googled and found it was called a Kinkajou. You probably haven’t heard of this little chap either …….

……. but the name was familiar to me and brought back a funny memory. Between the hall and the kitchen at my parent’s house in Balcombe (see PC 58 Going Home October 2015) was a duct to facilitate airflow. Each end was covered in chicken wire and a little stuffed toy animal was placed inside; it was known as the Kinkajou cage! A lack of an inquiring mind has often got me into trouble or slowed a process that was inevitable; I was no Gerald Durrell and I never bothered to learn all those years ago what a real Kinkajou looked like!

Something that did occupy one’s mind as a teenager was the longest word in English dictionary. It was a toss-up between ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ which is the act of considering something to be worthless and

Antidisestablishmentarianism’ which is the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England which seems like a double negative?

Rindfleischetikettierungsűberwachungsaufgabenűbertragungsgesetz’ was German’s longest word and means ‘the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef’. It has been confined to the linguistic history books as it was no longer necessary when the EU halted BSE-testing on healthy cattle at abattoirs. Now the longest in their dictionary is ‘Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung’ meaning motor vehicle indemnity insurance. Quite!

On the island of Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales, there’s a small, quiet town called, for short, Llanfair PG. Its full name is:  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

But the longest place name place in the world (85 letters) is a New Zealand hill named by the Maoris: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateteaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

It lies inland from Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

In case you have forgotten, the title of this PC is ‘Kerfuffle’, a good word to get your tongue around and one that means a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by differences of opinion.

Richard 25th March 2022


PS Hope to be back in The Hope Café in a couple of weeks to find out how Sami’s evidence to the Post Office Inquiry went.

PPS After Rose Wild’s Feedback following my lead on funny words, in last Sunday Times’ Style Section was a watch survey entitled Tick Tock. (See PC 274 Tick Tock!)

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