kerfuffle /kə’fʌfl/

“I bet it ended up in a good old kafuffle,” wrote Frank Sargeson, a New Zealand writer, in his 1946 book That Summer, and Other Stories. This is the first recorded mention of the word kerfuffle in the Oxford English Dictionary, which also appears as kufuffle.

Kerfuffle in Wooster

Kerfuffle in Wooster

The word means “disorder, flurry, or agitation,” and derives from the Scottish cufuffle. This in turn appears to have come from the verb, fuffle, with the prefix cur- possibly being related to the Gaelic car, which means “bend” or “twist.”

In its meaning as a noun  is in a poem by Scottish Poet, George Bruce, in 1813;

“An’ Jeanie’s kirtle, aye sae neat,
Gat there a sad curfuffle.”

Prior to that, it appears as a verb in 1583 in The Legend of the Bishop St. Androis, a story in Sempill Ballates, printed in 1872;

“Ane hamelie hat, a cott of kelt,
Weill beltit in ane lethrone belt;
A bair clock and a bachlane naig,
His ruffe curfufled about his craig.”

His craig is his neck.

The variety of spellings comes from its phonetic form being open to interpretation in terms of how best to write it. When you have the initial syllable sounded as /kə/ (“kuh”), you can use either a “k” or a “c,” and the schwah sound /ə/ can be written in many ways. Hence all the options, which also include cafuffle, gefuffle, and cafoufle, to name just a few.

Sheesh. All this kerfuffle over a single word.

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1 Comment

Filed under Etymology

One response to “kerfuffle /kə’fʌfl/

  1. Chris

    Also used as the name of one of the UK’s premier folk bands – Kerfuffle
    http://www.kerfuffleonline.co.uk
    Hope you enjoy the music!

    Many thanks

    Chris

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