This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Thing Not To Do Today: scuffle.

My Collins dictionary says that to scuffle is to fight in a disorderly manner

My mind's boggling a bit at the idea of an orderly fight (a duel, perhaps?) but it's true that you don't arrange a scuffle beforehand. A scuffle breaks out spontaneously. This means that most of the scufflers won't have a clue what they're scuffling about. That tends to stop things getting too passionate.

It also means, of course, that you can never have a successful scuffle.

Still, scuffle is a lovely word, and a scuffle is often no more than a bit of barging about in a crowd: good fun for the scufflers, though not for anyone who wants to go his way without getting pushed or kicked.

Still, if you do come across a scuffle then with any luck you'll be able to scuffle out of the way. This sort of scuffle seems to be halfway between a scuttle and a shuffle, and may well involve scuffing your feet along the ground, which would make, yes, a scuffling sound.

But easily the most productive way of scuffling is the sort done in the USA which involves using a scuffle, which is a sort of hoe you operate by pushing.

A scuffle.

A scuffle is also said to be a pinafore or a bib, but if this is so then I can't find an image or any example of anyone using it.

Thing Probably Not To Do Today: scuffle. The word meaning fight came from Scandinavia in the 1500s, and before that it came from skuff, to push, which makes scuffle is a frequentative. Scuffle meaning sound is probably an imitation of the noise it makes. The hoe sort of scuffle comes from the Dutch schoffel, which means shovel. Having said that, the fact that a scuffle is a push hoe makes me wonder if it isn't also bound up with skuff in some way.


  1. I wish word-coiners didn't use the same word for a different thing.
    Scuffle, as in the disorderly fight, came first, so the hoe doodad should be called scoffle, or something. Anything but scuffle! :)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Round here it's called a Dutch hoe or a thrust hoe, so several people seem to have agreed with you!

  2. I do rather like the word 'scuffle'. It implies a scrap or a fight without heart, one of artless posturing with a minimum of serious engagement, one in which the panicked scuffing and scuffling of shoes is as serious as it gets.

    1. Artless posturing with a minimum of serious engagement - how elegantly you put it, Eddie, thanks.
      So when does a scuffle become a fight? I'm no expert, but I think it might be when someone falls over.

  3. Scuffle is a tap dancing step. It is a scuff with a backward brush. Some people call it paddle but I like scuffle best.


    1. Is it? Wow, thanks Megan. You've aced the dictionaries.
      A scuff with a backward sounds pretty marvellous and delicious to me.