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Q From James R Cunningham: A friend said ‘don’t give me any of your guff’ and it made me curious as to the origin of guff. Any clue?

A The word guff was once used in standard English and in Scots to mean a puff or a whiff of a bad smell. It may be linked through Old Norse to the Norwegian gufs, a puff of wind. But either way it’s basically imitative and doesn’t seem to be connected to gust, though that, too, has an Old Norse origin. So talk that was just idle chatter or nonsense was rudely said to be just a puff of wind (or perhaps a bad smell).

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Page created 02 Sep 2000