• mufti •
mêf-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A Muslim legal advisor who writes fatwas, legal interpretations of the shari'a, the Islamic law. Fatwas are written for private clients and are generally binding in civil law but not in criminal cases. 2. Civilian clothes worn by someone who normally would wear a uniform.
Notes: This Good Word never adapted to its new language. It has remained very Arabic without bringing any of its relatives over except, perhaps, fatwa "Muslim legal opinion". The plural is a straightforward muftis.
In Play: Here in the West the second sense of today's word will probably prove the most useful: "Farkas didn't recognize his nurse of two weeks when he unexpectedly bumped into her in mufti at the movies." This word applies only to people who normally work in uniform, though any uniform will do: "Hardy Mehl was surprised to discover that Ronald McDonald is the same in mufti as not."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the Arabic word mufti "one who gives legal opinions", the active participle of ?afta "to decide by legal opinion". The Semitic root here is West Semitic *ptw "to advise", related to fatwa "legal opinion" itself, which comes from the same verb. In the 19th century muftis were represented on the British stage by actors wearing dressing gowns and tasseled caps. This informal wear is thought to be the origin of the connection between the Muslim mufti and civilian clothes. (We are grateful to Peter McCrossin of Australia for the lexical opinion that today's word is worthy of close inspection.)