or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, December 12, 2005

Getting To The Bottom Of It

You never know when you're going to find a new use for a word you thought you knew.

In Newfoundland, where I grew up, "duff" has two meanings. The first is "a boiled pudding", sort of like a traditional Christmas pudding; this word is a corruption of "dough". The second is "a kick (in the arse)", which is clearly related to a standard North American usage of the word to mean "backside", as in "get off your duff and wash those dishes".

But there's a third meaning! Who knew?

I ran across it in this Slate.com slideshow about the disintegration of buildings. On page 9 of the 10-page display is the following sentence: Time-lapse photography could document the incremental collapse of structures over decades, until only shadows in the forest duff remain.

"Forest duff"? What the hell?

It turns out that "duff" also means "decaying leaves and branches covering a forest floor". According to the OED, the pudding sense first appeared in the written language in 1840, with the forest-floor sense close behind in 1844; the buttocks/swift-kick sense doesn't appear at all. (They have a bunch of other, I presume specifically British senses of the word, though, mostly as verbs and adjectives; you can look those up for yourself, right?)


Post a Comment

<< Home