or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, April 04, 2008


Four years ago, Jim was alerted to the existence of a British comedy called "Black Books". A friend gave him a few episodes downloaded from the Internet. We needed to see them all, so managed to do so, and then we ordered all three six-episode series on DVD from the British Amazon.com (which there is Amazon.co.uk). And since British DVDs can't be played on North American DVD players (due to horrible region codes), we actually went out and bought a regionless DVD player specifically so we could watch anything we wanted to. When we went to London last year, we actually made a trip to the storefront that served as the bookstore in the series: we have pictures and everything.

The show, which obviously I can't recommend highly enough, centres on a dreadful, selfish bookstore proprietor, Bernard Black, whose best, perhaps only, friend, Fran Katzenjammer, owns the rubbishy gift shop next door. (As she herself says while gazing absently around the shop, "I do sell a lot of wank.") Her store, which you can barely see in this photo,

is called "Nifty Gifty". You can just make out the word "nifty" if you squint hard enough.

"Nifty" appears to be one of those American slang words that just materialized out of the vapour. Nobody knows where it came from; it just is. It's not new, either, not from the fifties or even the twenties: it's close on to 150 years old. That clearly gave it enough time to drift across the ocean and become, if not usual, then at least recognizable in British English as well.

All of this is a very roundabout way of telling you about an enchanting neologism I ran across yesterday on Boingboing:

The Middlesex University Teaching Resources shop sells all manner of awesome science toys for kids of all ages. Right now the front door is selling highly light-scattering nano-material, paper made from elephant poo, elasticated balls in mesh bags, a wide variety of science exploration kits, a hydrogel that expands to form artificial snow and many other bits of assorted nift.

"Nift"! A smart little back-formation from "nifty", and isn't it charming? Don't you want to run out and use it?


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