“Faff”

What would this blog do without Nancy Friedman? I shudder to think. Hard on the heels of spotting an Oregon loo, she reports that on last Thursday’s “Parks and Recreation,” Chris (Rob Lowe) said to Ben (Adam Cooper Scott): “The Ben Wyatt I know, I don’t think he’d be happy just sitting here faffing around.” (I’m surprised I didn’t hear about this first from Elizabeth Yagoda, “Parks and Rec” fan that she is.)

The Britishism in there is derived from faff, a verb meaning dither or fuss, and is usually followed by about. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation, from an 1874 volume called Yorkshire Oddities, suggests that it originated as a regionalism: “T’ clock~maker‥fizzled an’ faff’d aboot her, but nivver did her a farthing’s worth o’ good.”

Up till now, U.S. use has been spotty (and I don’t mean spotty in the English sense). It is a favorite of New York Times sports blogger Jeff Z. Klein, who, covering the 2008 women’s soccer matches at the 2008 Olympics, wrote:

Much faffing about as these final minutes tick down. New Zealand have a throw in deep in the Amerk zone, but the one Fern is surrounded by four Americans and winds up on her back as they run away with the ball.

Klein’s use of the plural verb have with the collective New Zealand indicates he has absorbed a bit too much English football coverage, and suggests that faff  is still more or less a one-off.

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17 responses to ““Faff”

  1. I tried unsuccessfully to find a biographical profile of Jeff Z. Klein online, but I did find that he has an affinity for hockey. Given that, could he Canadian, and therefore a native of the British Commonwealth? If so, that might suggest an origin for his love for “faffing about”.

  2. This was one of my ‘Untranslatables’ when I did a month of BrE/AmE ‘Untranslatable of the Day’ tweets. (The summary is here.) It’s a very useful word…not the worst thing to import!

  3. @lynne Just came across “squeaky” for Romney’s first victory. (Think I made it “close”!). Enough faffing about, got to get AFK. What a faff!

  4. Lynne, a Yinglish (Yiddish+English) near equivalent is “futzy.”

  5. Having slept on it, I should like to expand my reply. As editing it is apparently impermissible, here it is as a reply to my reply.
    I never heard “faff” in any form before in my life, but I have heard of “futzing around.” Indeed, I used it myself just a few weeks ago; but before I did, I wondered to myself, “Where did that come from?” Unable to find it in a dictionary, I used it anyway and evidently correctly. Thanks to this blog, I now know its origin.

  6. Faff can also be a noun, usually preceded by the word “right”, as in “it was a right faff”. It’s quite often said “it were a right faff” in spoken dialect, certainly in the north west of England or Granadaland as it is sometimes called.

    There’s lots of google hits for this usage:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&safe=off&q=%22a+right+faff%22&oq=%22a+right+faff%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=1&gs_sm=3&gs_upl=4282l5699l0l6094l2l2l0l0l0l0l65l117l2l2l0&gs_l=serp.3…4282l5699l0l6095l2l2l0l0l0l0l65l117l2l2l0.efis.1.

  7. I forgot to say that the noun faff, as in “it was a right faff” is used in the same way as “it was a pain in the arse”.

  8. Slight correction: the actor who plays ‘Ben’ is Adam Scott. I always though ‘faff’ was in some way related to the more famous f-word.

  9. Applications for the word faff..

    Stop faffing about! – A potential instruction to someone who’s reluctant to do something of some sort, possibly a job or an unruly child testing your patience. In this fashion, a substitute for phrases similar to ‘Stop messing about!’ or the the more aggressive ‘Stop f**king about!’

    Someone who is known to play up in this manner often could called a faff – ‘I don’t like working with Dave, he can’t do a single job right. He’s a total faff!

  10. Pretty sure that faff was like eff- a more printable alternative and middle class to fuck.

    And at least in the south have never ever heard anyone called a faff – the most common usage would be faffing about or around which implies a useless and possibly procrastinatory failure to achieve anything due to idleness, laziness or ignorance – you’d use fucking about if you want to more strongly condemn the failure or suggest that it is positively dangerous,

    If you are wasting time in an office that would be faffing around, if you were playing silly buggers (another one for your collection) on a building site you’d be told by the foreman to stop fucking about .

    • Yeah, I’d consider it a ‘sugar coated f**k’ where it usage is limited to it’s working environment. Though someone engaging in faffing is considered a faff.

      Up Northern England and having used the it myself the term ‘faff’ to implicate idleness in a work situation is considering slightly/more mocking than generally saying ‘You’re a lazy f**k and you really can’t be bothered to do or help with this job, can you?’ or ‘Don’t be a faff, get on with the job or go see the boss and tell him why the job isn’t getting done!’

      It’s workers taking on the role of boss to worker as the office boss really can’t address his feelings using ‘f**k’ and uses the word ‘faff’, where upon eavesdropping workers use term to playfully mock the worker in a typical act of ‘horseplay’ to compound the mood.

    • “..failure to achieve anything due to idleness, laziness or ignorance.”

      I don’t think that expresses “faffing” at all. It rather expresses unproductive fussing, misdirected or disorganised activity. Someone who is faffing is certainly not idle or lazy, though those around them might consider it a relief if they were, and more conducive to accomplishing the task in hand.

      As for “ignorance”, faffing is more likely to be the product of too much information and an inability to prioritise it, to discriminate between the essential and the marginal, to distinguish the wood from the trees.

  11. I’ve used this in an office and shop/factory floor situation and the effect is rather charming ;-D

  12. Isn’t “faffing about” a euphemism for “mucking about’ or “fannying about”…. which are all euphemisms for “fucking around” ?

  13. Coming from the south of the UK I’ve *never* understood “faff” to be a more acceptable alternative for f**k. It has no connection with that word at all.

    When it’s applied to objects, jobs or procedures, it means they are fiddly or time-consuming or otherwise a pain in the arse. When it’s applied to a person, it usually means they are fussy, indecisive, unfocused or timewasting – “He’s such a faff” or “Stop faffing around and get on with it!”

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