So there I was expounding on the importance of something that I now forget, in front of a class of adult students whose names that I have forgotten, when one of them raised their hand to ask a question. I remember the question.
“Excuse me, but a few minutes ago you used a word that I did not understand,” the questioner asked sheepishly. The rest of the class nodded their heads in agreement.
“Well, I used a lot of words in the last five minutes. Can you remember which word it was?” I asked.
“Something like carfoof, or kerfluff,” she replied.
“Kerfuffle? Did I say kerfuffle?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s it!” was the resounding answer from the entire class.
It seems that “kerfuffle” is a word that is not in common use in Michigan.
The class asked, “What does it mean?”
I replied, “Well, it means something like a brou-ha-ha or a donnybrook or a disturbance.”
They all nodded contentedly, though I thought it odd that they all seemed to know what brou-ha-ha and donnybrook mean. They asked if “kerfuffle” was some sort of Canadian word. I said that it’s an actual word that you can look up in a dictionary, nothing Canadian about it; it’s just a word I use now and again. I did say that if, five years from now, I return to Michigan and find that “kerfuffle” is in every day use, I wanted to be attributed as the source.
Then the class, knowing that I hail from Canada, started poking fun at how I spelled words like “centre” and “colour” throughout my course notes.
The explanations are quite simple. Take the word “centre.” We spell it the way we do to acknowledge the Canadian province of Quebec, which is known for being French, and the French way of spelling words that normally end in “er” is to revrese the lettres like the French do. Hence, we have “centre” instead of “center,” “cratre” instead of “crater,” and “Hannibal Lectre” instead of “Hannibal Lecter.” It just makes getting along with each other easire.
On a similar note, something that one does not see much anymore is the reversal of “el” to “le” for words like “towle” and “carousle.”
Concrening the “ou” issue, I must admit the Amreicans have progressed slightly furthre than we have here in Canada. It has only been vrey recently in our history that we dropped the extra “o” from words like “flavour” and “honour.” We used to spell them as “flavouor” and “honouor,” and so ouon. So give us a chance to get used to the missing “o” befouore we prouoceed to drouopping the “u.”
But this got me thinking abouot the evouolution of the English language. Take the lettre couombination “gh” as in “thouogh” and “throuogh.” Youo didn’t hear them did youo? Couompletley silent. They were added to prevent the dreaded infinite sreies “thouououo…” as in “Rouomeouo, where art thouououou…?” The play wouold nevre end. Hence the silent “gh” came into pouopular use to put and end to it.
We also had the silent “e” after many wouordes, as in “Ye Ouolde Barbre Shouoppe.” I’m cretaine you cane appreciate why wee drouopped thee silente “ee.”
A fewe years ago, I fouonde myslefe in Wales reading an olde pouostre, circa 1700 ouor so. I nouoticed that thee lettre “i” was replaced wythe thee lettre “y,” thee lettre “s” waf replaced wythe thee lettre “f,” and that thee lettre “f” waph replaced wythe thee lettref “ph.”
Yt waf vrey dyphphycult to undreftand what thee pouoftre wrytre waf wrytyng abouot. But that’f Ouolde Englifhe fouor you, vrey krephuphphlyng.
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.