Quiffs and anglicization

David Denby in the New Yorker on the new Steven Spielberg film The Adventures of Tintin:

The plot is standard boy’s-book adventure stuff. Tintin (Jamie Bell), the young reporter with an orange-brown quiff and an insatiable curiosity, pursues a buried treasure, journeying to the far corners by ship, plane, and motorcycle.

The hair-style noun quiff caught my eye, and pronunciation /tɪntɪn/ (rather than /tæntæn/) in ads for the movie caught my ear.

(For some discussion of Tintin on this blog, see here.)

Quiffs. Here’s an image of the boy adventurer, with his quiff (and his dog, Snowy):

OED3 (Dec. 2007) on quiff:

Origin uncertain; perhaps < a variant of coif v.2 or < its etymon French coiffer

Formerly: a curl or lock of hair plastered down on the forehead, esp. as favoured by soldiers. Now: a piece of hair brushed and styled upwards and backwards from the forehead, typically worn by a man and associated with the fashion and culture of the 1950’s.

The cites, from 1890 on, are all British, but the word has clearly made its way into American English, and now applies to women’s hair as well as men’s. (The OED doesn’t mark the word as either British or slang, though some other sources do.)

Some discussion from the extensive quiff coverage on the droll site fashionising.com:

It started out with a hint of the extreme, with overtones of an attitude that said “I play a six string” and the Devil may care. But like so many things, the return of the quiff to popularity has eventually seen it evolve into something more refined. Scrap that. Refined is totally the wrong word. The style of quiff may have changed but this is still an attitude-infused hairstyle, it just happens to be a very different attitude. One where the six string doesn’t matter, the Devil doesn’t get a show in, and the look sits somewhere between the moody and the broody. Think James Dean and a desire to get laid and you’re on the right track.

So in 2012 the quiff deviates from something solely early-rock to include a variation that is a whole lot less Gene Vincent and a whole lot more Elvis. Yes, Elvis was probably of your parents’ generation, but a combination of hair and hip thrusting made him stand out and, as it stands as a 2012 men’s hairstyle, that’s precisely what the quiff is about: standing out with the hope of hip thrusting.

Many photos on the site, including this one, illustrating male quiffs of two degrees of extremity:

(Quiff is a word that sounds like it ought to be at least naughty, if not actually coarse slang — “his quiff in her quim”, something like that — and indeed a huge variety of slang senses have been reported. Apparently, it’s just one of those dirty-sounding words that can get pressed into service for any old off-color meaning. Including as an onomatopoetic verb meaning ‘fart’.)

Pronouncing Tintin. If you’ve heard the name pronounced in French, the obvious anglicized pronunciation would be /tæntæn/, like tan repeated. But if you go on the spelling, or if you’re suspicious of pronunciations that sound “too close to” foreign originals — many people seem to be — you’ll use the spelling pronunciation, /tɪntɪn/, like tin repeated. Which is what the film goes for.

(My grand-daughter is a fan of the Tintin books. Yes, they’re boy-adventure books, but she seems to think of them as kid-adventure books: good for her. Plus, they have a resourceful dog in them, always a good thing in her book.)

14 Responses to “Quiffs and anglicization”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Éamonn McManus on Google+:

    When I was little we had Tintin books and I don’t think it ever occurred to me or anyone I knew that the name might be pronounced any way other than as written. After all, the books were in English.

    Well, of course: the only information you had about the pronunciation of the word was its spelling, in an English context. Other situations are more complex.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robert Coren on Facebook:

    I’m pretty sure that, in the US at least, the 1950s style was called a “pompadour” at the time.

    Arne Adolfsen replied:

    Isn’t a pompadour when the whole mass of hair at the front is brushed up and back and hairsprayed into place? I think of a quiff as being more localized somehow, involving just the hair at the hairline. Maybe I’m just wrong or there are multiple words for the same idea (imagine that), since I also remember being the victim of a fair share of “butch” haircuts as a pre-teen (remember “butch wax”?) which judging from the pictures of myself consists of a crew cut with inch long bangs that are waxed so that they stand straight up.

    Yes, it seems that all pompadours are quiffs, but not all quiffs are pompadours: Tintin’s isn’t, and neither is the hairstyle of the guy on the left in the photo above. OED3 (Dec. 2006) has, among the senses of pompadour (all derived from Mme Pompadour):

    orig. U.S. A hairstyle worn by men, in which the hair is swept back from the forehead without a parting.

    (with cites from 1885). I don’t think this gloss quite captures my sense of the word, which involves more upsweep.

  3. The Ridger Says:

    It’s long been a truism that girls will read “boys’ books” but boys won’t read “girls’ books’. I know I read the Hardy Boys, etc, just as much as Nancy Drew, and I know other women of whom this is true. I don’t know any men who admit to having read Nancy or Cherry or the Camp Fire Girls… I think this is one reason why so many kids’ movies are all about boy animals doing things. Think of Ice Age, for example; it wouldn’t have affected the plot one bit if one of them had been female. But it (apparently) would have affected the box office.

  4. The Ridger Says:

    ps – I never heard the word “quiff” before.

  5. Greg Stump Says:

    In French, Tintin’s cowlick is called “une mèche” or “une houppette”. For a funny story (in French) on why Tintin chose this hairstyle, see the dÉsencyclopédie entry on Tintin:


    (It contains a pun on “vendre la mèche”, an idiom meaning “let the cat out of the bag”.)

  6. mollymooly Says:

    John Wells’ pronouncing dictionary gives only /tɪntɪn/ for Tintin. Since the other character’s names are anglicised (Dupont and Dupond to Thompson and Thomson, etc etc) it seems inconsistent to persist in Frenchifying the hero’s name. Of course “Tintin” remains a French-style hypocoristic whatever its pronunciation.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Lots of readers seem to be assuming that I was interested in prescribing what the “correct” pronunciation should be. Quite the contrary. I was observing different routes to a pronunciation. I did note the spelling-based “tin” pronunciation, because the Anglicized “tan” pronunciation was the one used in my (French-experienced) household.

  7. Rin Tin … « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Rin Tin Tin, the great movie dog, plus Tintin, the boy hero of the comics (and now the movies), who goes on his adventures with his dog Snowy. (In the cartoon, […]

  8. huge-quiffed schlemiel « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] The quiff is Jopo’s hairstyle. For discussion of the word, with illustrations of the hairstyle from real life and from Hergé’s creation Tintin, see “Quiffs and anglicization”, here. […]

  9. joost swarte Says:

    Dear mr. Zwicky,

    At the time I created my character Jopo de Pojo, I had the Marx Brothers in mind. It is smart how the brothers created their personal identity (aside from their roles and acting) by strong personal physics. When I started Jopo , I created also the Bros Interessimo (see my book page page 97).
    You see there a black Tintin, a Happy Hooligan, a Groucho director, etc.

    Jopo in fact was the schlemiel and the most stereotype of them all.
    His golfpants come from Tintin, the badge on his shirt from Krazy Kat.
    His round head from early Disney characters like Bucky Bug.
    As he is a musiclover, I composed his head from elements from a musical note: The note is his head, I left out the stick and placed the flag of the
    1/16 note on his head as a quiff.

    Thanks for having this discussion on your blog,
    Kindest regards, Joost Swarte

  10. More quiffs « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Tintin and his quiff, see here (and here); and on Joost Swarte’s character Jopo and his (gigantic) quiff, see here. […]

  11. Cope & Guilbert « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the Tintin-esque, and Alison Bechdel-esque, […]

  12. Non-hair quiffs | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] it turns out that in addition to quiff referring to a hair style (first discussed in this blog here), it has plenty of other senses. What I said in that first quiff posting […]

  13. At the X line with remarkably named pornstars | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Lauzen and Vittoria, shown here together (Lauzen, on the left, looking distinctly quiffy), along with the Lucas site’s breathless descriptions of […]

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