Printable Version
Pronunciation: pif-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: (Colloquial) 1. (Noun) Rubbish, garbage, malarkey, hot air, trash, tosh, bilge, drivel, twaddle, tripe, guff, hogwash, hokum, bunkum, codswallop, poppycock, balderdash, bosh, hooey, tommyrot, horse feathers, bull's wool. 2. To act or speak feebly, or in a trivial and inept way, to pussy-foot, to dither or fiddle, as to piffle away a promising career or piffle with someone's affections.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a colloquial one, which means that you may use it safely in conversation but not in a scholarly publication. It comes with a participle-adjective, piffling, which means "trivial, superficial." Someone who is prone to piffle is a piffler. Pifflicated, now rarely used and rightly so, would seem to be unrelated, for it means "tipsy, slightly drunk", a state in which a person is more likely to speak piffle.

In Play: Sentences like this are perfectly acceptable in casual conversation: "I am so tired of the piffle on US television these days, especially since the presidential campaign started." The same is true of the verb: "Lawrence piffled away his inheritance on wine, women, and riotous living."

Word History: We don't know exactly where this word came from: "of unknown origin", as smart lexicographers say. But what other lexicographers say has never dampened my eagerness to speculate. It has been suggested that this word is a blend of trifle and piddle. I favor this explanation. Others have surmised it to be an onomatopoeic attempt to capture the puff of air we often emit when we are incredulous plus the diminutive suffix, -le. What do you think? (I will piffle around no more but get right down to an expression of our gratitude toward Eileen Schey for her suggestion of today's far from piffling Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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