CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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Pfft!

The British expression "noise stroke gesture" (in American parlance, "noise slash gesture" or "noise/gesture") refers to the intriguing fact that some vocal expressions seem to call for an accompanying hand gesture.  Take, for example, Pfft!  No matter what its intended meaning, it virtually demands to be echoed in sign language.

Reader Jonathan Caws-Elwitt suggests some other great examples:

Someone pretends to moisten a finger, then touches it briefly to her posterior and mimes the effect of the finger "sizzling" -- to the accompaniment of a "Tsss" vocalization.   And how about the triumphant "Yessss!" that is always(?) accompanied by body language?  Or Fonzie's "Ayyyy" with thumb extended?  Or the one where someone acknowledges someone else by briefly pointing at him/her while making a one- or two-syllable clicking sound (reminiscent of a shutter-release)?

Have you noticed a noise/gesture in print?  Please share!

(For a variety of surprising definitions of noises like pfft, check out my Dictionary of All-Consonant Words at OneLetterWords.com.)

July 31, 2012 (permalink)



This still is from Derren Brown's stage show entitled Enigma.

July 27, 2012 (permalink)

"He waved a hand, made a pffft sound, told more."
Steve Ulfelder, The Whole Lie (2012)

July 20, 2012 (permalink)

"'Pffft.'  She waved away the distinction."
Leah Braemel, Hidden Heat (2012)

March 22, 2011 (permalink)

Our friend Jonathan Caws-Elwitt spotted this lovely pfft variant in the wild:

p'fft
—our 11th cousin P.G. Wodehouse's novel Bertie Wooster Sees It Through

We can verify that p'fft is an appropriate response to "blankety-blank nonsense" (as noted on the first page of Budget Weddings For Dummies).  Relatedly, Wodehouse has written: "He had a dim sort of idea that it began with an F or a G, but beyond that his mind was a blank" (The Small Bachelor).

But did you know that p'fft comes down to us from an ancient Chinese expression meaning, "May your children and grandchildren never murmur as they carry out the careful and brilliant virtue of their predecessors"?

It's commonly assumed that the apostrophe in p'fft stands for an f, the concept being that an f-too-many is overwhelming.  Indeed, Wodehouse notes: "You could have knocked me down with a f" (Right Ho, Jeeves).  Yet the truth is more interesting.  The apostrophe actually stands for a hyphen, swept upwards as it were by the breath of the expression.

January 27, 2011 (permalink)


Photo by bazookabill.  See full-size image here.
One of the definitions of "pfft" in our popular dictionary of all-consonant words is "a spray from an aerosol can."  So we weren't at all surprised to see the word spray painted on a wall.

February 21, 2009 (permalink)

"The shed went quiet save for the pfft of Paul dragging on his cigarette." —Screwthedaisies, Things Inside.

February 15, 2009 (permalink)

"He could hardly be held accountable for determining how much time had passed in her presence, for soon she was gone: 'Pfft,' he expounded." —Joseph Di Prisco, Confessions of Brother Eli

February 1, 2009 (permalink)

"Don't go pfft. It's true," he said. —Sue Miller, While I Was Gone

January 26, 2009 (permalink)

"I just — pfft-pfft — spent money like that." —John Miller Chernoff, Hustling is Not Stealing

January 18, 2009 (permalink)

MORRIS: What does that mean — pfft?
SHLOMO: It means nothing. ... Pfft this, pfft that.
Allan Knee, Second Avenue Rag

January 10, 2009 (permalink)

"'Pfft, pfft, pfft,' Mama made spitting noises to drive away the demons." —Sylvia Smoller, Rachel and Aleks

January 4, 2009 (permalink)

"The pfft! would be complete if I had developed any flair for fiction." —C. H. (Brick) Garrigues

December 21, 2008 (permalink)

"I've never told you but back in London (that time she was in hospital and refused to see me) she almost gave up the ghost pfft." —Gérard Bessette, Incubation

November 23, 2008 (permalink)

"The moth bounced against a row of books: pfft, pfft, pfft." —Andrea Barrett, The Voyage of the Narwhal

November 2, 2008 (permalink)

"Of course, the audience was full of the most dreadful people imaginable, and all these balloons were going pfft, pfft, pfft." —Elton John, The Rolling Stone Interviews

October 12, 2008 (permalink)

"'Pfft — pfft — pfft!'  That is the stars whistling for the soul of the shaman." —John MacDonald, The Arctic Sky: Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore, and Legend

September 6, 2008 (permalink)

"He thought for a second and shpritzed me with four quicker, quieter Bronx cheers: 'Pfft, pfft, pfft, pfft.' ... And I had no idea PFFFFFFT was a four-letter word." —Joel Siegel, Lessons For Dylan

August 16, 2008 (permalink)

"At night, a figure in dungarees with a mop of shaggy hair would have shaken a canister and angrily, joyfully, sprayed graffiti on the substation: pfft!" —Francesca Ferguson, Deutschlandscape

August 9, 2008 (permalink)

"'Pfft, Pfft . . . Pfft, Pfft . . . Pfft, Pfft' was all that was heard during the next one and half seconds before the lights came back on." —Martin C. Arostegui, Twilight Warriors

August 2, 2008 (permalink)

"Every spritz makes a pfft." —Wilhelm Genazino, The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt



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