What’s the origin of the word kerfuffle?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: kerfuffe…

I read the novel Death in Summer — a sort of a mystery with more emphasis on human emotion rather than plot twists — by William Trevor in August. It seems like a perfect summertime book for me — the word summer was even in the title!

To my surprise, it also revealed a number of words I hadn’t before heard. For example a termagant (a harsh-tempered or over-bearing woman), a punnet (a small light container for fruit or vegetables) and a haulm (a stalk or stem.) But my word-of-the-week — kerfuffle — is one I already know. I just became curious about its etymology. Here’s how Trevour used it, in a simple straightforward sentence:

‘Forgive me for all this kerfuffle, dear.’

Of course the term means a “disturbance” or “disorder.” (The photo, above, shows a room in what I’d describe as a kerfuffle.) Interestingly, it’s a relatively new word, dating back to the early 20th century. It’s thought to have come from the Scots word curfuffle, which in turn probably comes from the Scottish Gaelic car meaning to “twist” or “bend” combined with another Scots word  fuffle meaning “‘to disorder.” The word may also be related to the Irish cior thual meaning “confusion.”