A Digression From the Dictionary
Bill Long 5/20/06
On Two Syllable, Double-Consonanted Verbs--With a Long Digression on Words for Intoxication
My study of the adjective piffling, which means inconsequential or trivial, in this essay led me to list a series of other two syllable words which I mentioned in passing. In this essay I will look into some of them, such as witter, dither, fiddle and fritter. We might just discover, however, that upon meeting these words, we are taken into the inner sanctum (or penetralia) of more words. As a matter of fact, I won't be able to get to those words today--just too many other interesting things are leading me astray. The next essay will explore those words; here we wander into words associated with intoxication.
As I was studying piffle/piffling, my eye ran across a neighboring word, pifflicated. This is the way that learning really works. You find your life in research when you are looking for something else. The reason why I like to have open stacks in a research library is that the book that you actually end up using for whatever you think your task is, is probably a neighboring book to the one you thought you were looking for. Well, I thought that pifflicated must mean something like "inconsequential" or "trivial," but in fact it is a word first used in 1899 to mean "intoxicated" or "drunk." The Marion (OH) Daily Star had: "A correspondent asks for a definition of the word 'pifflicated,' which was used the other day in The Courant with reference to the condition of a person who was regarded as intoxicated." So, where is The Courant's (Hartford, I presume) attestation? The OED doesn't give it to us. The OED isn't sure of its origin, even though it says that it is "rare" today, but suggests that it might have emerged as a sort of portmanteau word, combining piffle and spifflicated." Seems to me, however, that you really don't need this explanation, since the whole word is just about contained in spiflicated. On to spiflicated.
Yet, A Further Digression
The OED defines spiflicated the same way as pifflicated, but the verb spiflicate is older than the adjective. It means "To deal with in such a way as to confound or overcome completely; to treat or handle roughly or severely; to crush, destroy." Oops. I think I am really going to get far afield, for the OED suggests that a similar word to spiflicate is smifligate. The latter is a nonsense word made up by Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby: "and so polite were they, that Mr. Pyke threatened with many oaths to 'smifligate' a very old man with a lantern who accidentally stumbled in her way." Thus, to spiflicate someone is to crush or destroy him. From 1873: "The way in which the learned, racy old Hector smashes and spiflicates scientific idiots...is delicious."
So, from the notion of spiflicate meaning to overcome is the idea of spiflicated meaning "to be overcome," and one of the popular ways for getting into this state is through intoxication. From O. Henry in 1906: "He uses Nature's Own Remedy. He gets spiflicated." As early as the mid-1920s, the New Republic published a partial list of words denoting drunkenness. Included in that list was "spifflicated." I actually didn't find this list, but I found another list in the December 1928 edition of American Speech (p. 102). I think it is worthwhile just to take a moment to give the whole list. Maybe others have developed in the past 78 years..
Words for Intoxication, Circa 1928
In alphabetical order, these 49 words are:
half seas over
three sheets in the wind
Professor Prenner, who authored the article, doesn't say where he got all the words, but a good bet is that all he needed to do was to look around the table at his English Department colleagues in those days. Which is your favorite term? I, frankly, like the term stuccoed. It connotes the idea of an uneven, and pinkish surface, which may be exactly how the face looks when it is overcome by iniebriation.
I think I am not quite finished with the digression, so let's go on to the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long