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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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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 2 Sep. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 2 September 2000.