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Tuesday, September 29

The Wonder of Whiffling

According to the website of The Wonder of Whiffling, the book is a tour of English around the globe (with fine coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under and elsewhere). As for whiffling, the free online dictionary describes the word as thus:

1. To move or think erratically; vacillate.
2. To blow in fitful gusts; puff: "The wind whiffled through the trees."
3. To whistle lightly.

Other definitions say: A puffing sound. To veer or shift about. But the meaning I like the most is: "To make unintelligible noises whilst sleeping, most commonly observed in dogs." And here's a definition of whiffle that Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park would have understood: "The sound a pug puppy makes when it breathes."

Some of the book's highlights include:

Continuations – 19th century word for trousers, so called because they continued a gentleman's waistcoat in a direction best left unmentioned in polite company.

Bunting time – term from the late 17th century for the time of year when the grass in the fields is high enough to hide young men and maids.

Vice-admiral of the narrow seas – Regency phrase for a drunken man who relieves himself under the table into his companions' shoes.

Cochel – Sussex dialect word meaning "too much for a wheelbarrow but not enough for a cart".

(Definitions from the article, Obscure Corners of the English Language)


ChaChaneen said...

Ha ha. Too funny! Some things don't change through the centuries!

nigel said...

I wonder if there is a root word that also includes the origin of whoffling?

ibmiller said...

Is this at all related to Dorothy L. Sayer's wonderful mystery novel "Murder Must Advertise," in which the main character came up with the slogan "Whiffling" for a cigarette company?

Vic said...

I'm not sure, ib. I saw the title of the book and just had to pursue what was inside it. To my delight and surprise, some of the terminology was used during Jane Austen's day.

ibmiller said...

Fascinating - I guess Sayers was just playing off of a great word - as she did in real life too (she worked in an advertising agency as well for some time, and was quite successful).

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful book. Reading it would be a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Will have to make sure I find it.