Header image of books


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”.

Search World Wide Words

Support this website!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Jan. 2002

Advice on copyright

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.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-shu1.htm
Last modified: 5 January 2002.