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Q From Nick Carrington, UK: What’s the origin of shufty, meaning look, as in take a shufty?

A Shufti (another way of writing it, the one usually given in dictionaries) is Arabic. In that language it means “have you seen?”. It’s a bit of military slang, picked up by British servicemen formerly based in the Middle East. The first recorded examples in print are from the Second World War, suggesting that it may have originated among soldiers in the desert campaign. However, Eric Partridge says that it actually started life with Royal Air Force stations in that area about 1925, but that it had spread to the Army by 1930. This seems probable, to judge from the extent of its use in World War Two, and the number of compounds it spawned, none of which seem to have survived the end of the War. Among them, Partridge mentions shuftiscope, which had a number of senses, one of which he defines with ponderous delicacy as “an instrument used by doctors for research in cases of dysentery”.

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Page created 05 Jan 2002