No scurrying here

No scurrying here

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After two and a half weeks off, it takes a while to get back in the swing of work.

Things take a bit longer for me to do, like reading page proofs and editing, especially when I have to keep reminding myself to get my butt up and go grab some lunch from the refrigerator before my stomach acids start making things unpleasant, or to walk around for a while so my muscles don’t suddenly forget they exist.

It was a little easier when I was staying at a friend’s house because she would remind me to do those things. Plus, there were Sarah’s critters, and occasionally visiting critters, to amuse me (Charlie the cat, I can sincerely say I’m not sorry for bothering you).

Just because I’m back at home doesn’t mean Sarah’s not still keeping an eye on me, though, and I’m glad to have such a great friend, especially when she texts me pictures of Charlie and Josie curled up on the couch where I was cuddling with them a week ago.

Like me, Sarah is a great lover of words, and Monday morning she sent me a Facebook post promoting a revival of “scurryfunge,” meaning the hasty tidying up you may do when you find that a last-minute guest is coming. When I wondered what the word would be for being too tired to scurryfunge (which happens a lot when you’re recovering from surgery), she thought about it and ultimately came up with “purryfunge,” meaning “to rest comfortably (preferably with a cat) with little to no desire to scurryfunge.”

I did a lot of purryfunging at Sarah’s house … when I wasn’t booping Charlie’s nose or rubbing that belly. When my furry one was alive, I did that pretty much nonstop … which led to the occasional scurryfunge when some person was crazy enough to come over.

Scurryfunge deserves to be used more than it is. Language blogger Paul Anthony Jones, who blogs as Haggard Hawks, noted in an August 2017 post: “[W]hen it first appeared in the language in the late 18th century, scurryfunge originally meant ‘to beat’ or ‘lash,’ and later ‘to rub’ or ‘to scrub clean.’ These two apparently unrelated meanings are perhaps connected through allusion to someone working hard enough or with enough power or elbow-grease to wear away or abrade a surface; in that sense, etymologically scurryfunge may be in some way derived from scour. Precisely where the funge part comes from, however, is a mystery.”

Heck, where it came from in the first place is a mystery as well, as a search for its origin shows. (Old English? Newfoundland? Who knows?)

“By the early 20th century,” Jones wrote, “scurryfunge had largely fell out of widespread use in the language, apparently surviving only in a handful of regional dialects. By then, however, its meaning had altered slightly [to its present meaning]–perhaps through later confusion with the word scurry, which has been used to mean ‘to move rapidly’ since the early 1800s.”

In 2017, British language experts came up with a list of 30 “lost” words they believed should make a comeback, including “quacksalver” (someone who falsely claims medical knowledge), “peacockize” (to strut or pose ostentatiously), and “sillytonian” (a silly or gullible person). Scurryfunge was not among the 30 words, but was discussed, along with the list of lost words, by the BBC in a story about Jones and his book “The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities.” Jones told BBC Culture, “I’ve been obsessed with language ever since I was a kid.”

See? I’m not the only one!

Since childhood, Jones has been on a mission to save obscure expressions from extinction, the BBC wrote. “I found one, ‘shivviness,’ in an English dialect dictionary; it means ‘the uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear’ and comes from ‘shiv,’ which is an old Yorkshire dialect word for a splinter or a loose thread. It’s that idea of something being itchy.”

Others in his 2017 book included “eucatastrophe” (a sudden and unexpected fortuitous event, coined by JRR Tolkien), “gobble-pipe” (a saxophone) and “proditimania” (the irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor).

I think we all know of at least a few who suffer from proditomania, including one currently making noise in Ukraine.

When I was in college, one of my favorite professors was Dr. Alexander Sydorenko, who had fled Ukraine (beset then by both Joseph Stalin and Nazis) with his family when he was a child. He introduced his World Civilizations students to the massacres at Babi Yar, and in an honors seminar in the wake of the Berlin Wall’s fall, analyzed the downfall of Soviet-style communism throughout the Eastern Bloc. He retired somewhat recently.

In a Facebook post Friday, I wrote: “Dr. Syd was a favorite of mine not just because of his brilliance and sense of humor, but because he didn’t let the tragedy of his past overshadow his future. He wanted people to be aware of what happens when fascists are allowed to run wild, and to learn from our history.”

As George Santayana said in “Reason in Common Sense,” “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I think Ukraine has a long memory for the tragedies it’s suffered. The Kremlin strongman would do well to remember that.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at Read her blog at


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