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Debate: Faff

Updated Wednesday, 14th September 2005

The Open University's Diana Honeybone recalls a meeting with a word she'd assumed was local

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I'm used to the word 'faff' meaning 'trouble, nuisance' particularly of a complicated sort; it can also be used as a verb, 'to faff about', to mess about with details instead of getting on with a job.

I'd assumed it was a dialect expression, perhaps East Midland dialect, but today I heard two staff in an academic library using it in a work-related conversation, in standard English, to describe a fiddly job of work they had to do. Is it coming into general use?

Some years ago, when writing reports on pupils in school, a colleague asked if we could think of an acceptable Standard English report-speak phrase instead of 'a right little faffer' which was, he thought, a fitting description of one pupil who was given to fussy messing about, though it wouldn't have got through the school censorship.

We came up with the more conventional 'If X can overcome a tendency to be easily distracted' etc. At the parents' evening which followed, the pupil's father complained, saying that this comment wasn't strong enough : 'Never mind all that stuff - we both know she's a right little faffer'.





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