Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêmpf Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)

Meaning: 1. Toilet paper. 2. Useless or tedious documentation, red tape, bureaucratic paperwork.

Notes: Today's word will be recognized better by those living outside the US, especially in the UK, where it arose in the public school in the original sense, then spread to the military, where it picked up its second, metamorphic meaning. It is a lexical orphan.

In Play: crapolaThe literal sense of this word is rather topical in 2020: "As soon as the public knew about the COVID-19 pandemic, all the bumf disappeared from the shelves of stores in town". The second, metaphorical meaning may be used like this: "Nothing came in the mail today except a lot of bumf."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a clipping of the compound bumfodder, comprising bum + fodder. As a clipping it is an oddity, like blog from weblog, where all but one letter of one constituent is clipped. The origin of the first constituent is mysterious. The most probable explanation is that it is an odd clipping of internal sounds of bottom. Fodder, of course, comes from the same source as food, PIE pat- "food, feed". When the suffix -t was added to words that ended in [t] in PIE, that [t] often became [s] in daughter languages. So, pasture came from the same source. When the suffix -n was added to the same stems, the [t] disappeared, hence Latin panis "bread", which went on to become pan in Spanish and pain in French. (Let's now thank Mary Jane Stoneburg, who discovered today's Britishy Good Word in America and shared it with us. Mary Jane is also a decades-long editor of the Good Word Series.)

Dr. Goodword,

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