Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Up The Duff

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 26, 2015

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

 

A few days back, someone posted the idiom up the duff on one of Jeff Long’s social media pages.  It was an expression that most people hadn’t heard before, and Idiomation decided to research the idiom.

The expression, according to Australian sources, is a euphemism for a pregnancy, usually an unplanned one.  Kaz Cooke’s book, “Up The Duff: The Real Guide To Pregnancy” published by Penguin Australia in 2009 bears out that definition nicely.

While that may be the case, there’s some confusion about how the word duff relates to pregnancy.  This took some unraveling before the answer was obvious.

The word duff is part of the English dialect according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, and is an alteration of the word dough (as in bread).  The first known use of the word duff is said to be 1816.

Starting from this point, it was learned that between 1830 and 1840, people in Scotland and Northern England enjoyed a pudding that was flavored with currants and spices, and boiled or steamed in a cloth bag, that was called a duff.

It was in 1828 that the “American Dictionary of the English Language” defined pudding as “what bulges out, a paunch” and it a well-known colloquialism at the time for a pregnant woman was to say that she was in the pudding club.

During this era, dough (also referred to as duff) was another word for pudding, with the word duff used as an alternative form and pronunciation of dough.  In the book by American lawyer, politician and author Richard Henry (R.H.) Dana, Jr. (1 August 1815 – 6 January 1882) entitled, “Before the Mast” published in 1840, the following was written:

To enhance the value of the Sabbath to the crew, they are allowed on that day a pudding, or, as it is called, a ‘duff.’

But even if the connection between duff and pudding is clear, how is pregnancy connected to either word?  That’s something you’ll need to read in “Wit and Mirth, an Antidote Against Melancholy Compounded of Ingenious and Witty Ballads, Songs, and Catches, and Other Pleasant and Merry Poems” by Henry Playford (1657 – 1707), and published in 1682 where the sexual meaning of the word pudding is explained.  You may wish to begin with the song sung by Mr. Leveridge in the Play called, “The Country Miss With Her Furbelow.”

So it would seem that sometime between 1816 and 1840, duff and pudding and intimate activities and pregnancy were euphemistically cross-referenced, and because of that Idiomation pegs the idiom up the duff to 1840, with a nod to previous centuries leading up to the idiom’s use in general parlance.

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