• waffle •
Pronunciation: wah-fêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. (Noun) A pancake cooked in a waffle iron that gives it crosshatched surfaces. 2. (Verb) To waver, to vacillate, to hesitate because of being unsure, to be indecisive.
Notes: Today we offer you yet two more words for the price of one—and a very good price at that. (However, today's Word History will show that 5,000 years ago, they were one and the same.) If you waffle, you're a waffler given to waffling. The adjective is waffling, too, as in 'a waffling judge held up the final score'.
In Play: Among the punny headlines in our Laughing Stock, you will find this famous headline from the British press during the Falkland War: "British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands." It shows how these two words can lead to confusion. (Left can be a verb or refer to the British left political wing.) Here is a way to use both words without confusion: "Janice waffled so long between choosing pancakes or waffles for breakfast that the waitress left her table in a huff."
Word History: The noun waffle was borrowed from Dutch wafel "waffle" probably because the Dutch are known for their inventive pancakes. The verb waffle would seem to be a diminutive of obsolete waff, meaning to wave a little. Waft, as in 'a flag wafting in the breeze', is an old past tense of waff, itself a variant of wave. Now, wave and weave also share the same ultimate ancestor, PIE webh- "to weave", which also turns up in Modern English web. The back and forth movement of weaving quite expectably led to the sense of indecision, while the crisscross pattern of weaving led to the sense of the Dutch noun wafel. (We do not waffle in offering our deepest gratitude to Mike Groman of the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's two Good Words.)