Today’s enjoyable word

This morning Michael Sheehan asked ADS-L:

One family I know uses “foo foo rah” to describe a raucous party, especially one in which many participants get drunk. Does this term have currency outside that one family?

Oh my yes. OED3 (June 2000) has a foofaraw entry with a huge pile of alternative spellings (indicating that the word spread primarily through speech) and a wonderful etymology:

< French fanfaron, adjective ‘boastful’ (1668; 1609 as noun in sense ‘braggar’; cf. French regional fanfarou) and its etymon Spanish fanfarrón, adjective ‘ostentatious, vain, arrogant’ and noun ‘braggart, show-off’ (1555; 1514 as panfarrón), of imitative origin (cf. fanfare n.). Cf. earlier fanfaron n.

Forms in fr- are prob. influenced by frou-frou n.

It’s labeled as North American colloquial. The adjective use ‘fussy, vain; (also) gaudy, tawdry’ is labeled U.S. regional (specifically western) and marked as historical and rare, with cites from 1848:

G. F. Ruxton in Blackwood’s Mag. June 719/1   Them white gals are too much like picturs, and a deal too ‘fofarraw’ (fanfaron).

through 1984:

A. L. Waldo Sacajawea (rev. ed.) lii. 1176   I’ve never laid on such a foofaraw bed in all my days.

Then there are the noun uses, labeled U.S. regional (western), though I’m familiar with these uses from the middle Atlantic and south midlands areas.

1. Trinkets or gaudy apparel; (in later use also) frivolous trappings or accoutrements. [cites from 1848 through 1995]

The 1995 cite:

N.Y. Times 30 July xi. 1/4   The same car but without such niceties as polished wooden picnic tables in the back seat and similar foofaraw.

And the sense reported by Michael Sheehan:

2. Ostentation. Also: fuss; commotion, uproar; = brouhaha n. [cites from 1933 through 2004]

The 2004 cite:

Vanity Fair Nov. 316/1,   I have no idea how the later-summer foofaraw caused by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth played out.

The OED entry is based in part on the entry in the Dictionary of American Regional English. Michael Quinion did a nice World Wide Words column on the word, here.

And the word is still very much in use. Here’s a January 7 link in Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes:

You likely don’t need to hear one more commentary about the Huckleberry Finn foofaraw [about the bowdlerizing of the book], but consider reading Jon Clinch‘s, as somebody who spent a lot of time attempting to inhabit Twain’s world in his 2007 novel, Finn.

Brouhaha is a great word too.


3 Responses to “Today’s enjoyable word”

  1. Michael John Sheehan Says:

    Thanks, Arnold. Your research is appreciated.

  2. H. R. Freckenhorst Says:

    And there’s the Simpsons episode “Last Exit to Springfield,” on which Kent Brockman hosts Homer and Dr. Joyce Brothers to discuss whether the strike at the power plant is a hargle-bargle or a foofaraw. I had always heard that last word as “foofarad,” but had never bothered to check the spelling.

  3. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    […] a West-Country word for “tourist.” Arnold Zwicky came across some cool words too, including foofaraw and garmento, as well as several portmanteaus, such as murderabilia, viewmongous, mathemusician, […]

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