Challenging Word of the Week: foofaraw

(FOOH fuh raw) n.

This bit of informal American, as well as its variant fofarraw (FOH fuh raw), has two distinct meanings; a big fuss about very little, i.e., much ado about nothing; or flashy finery, too many frills. Literary policeman’s question: “What’s going on here? What’s all the foofaraw about?” Or, in the second sense, from a lady wearing a lorgnette (if you can find one): “She could certainly dispense with all the foofaraw!” A lovely-sounding word and, say the authorities, origin unknown; but in the first sense, could it be a corruption of free-for-all (in baby-talk)? The British appear not to use this word, but, in the to-do sense, have a nice equivalent: gefuffle, also spelt kerfuffle and cufuffle, all loosely used as synonyms for their word shemozzle, which is also spelt shemozzl, chimozzle, and at least half-a-dozen other ways — you takes your choice.

This selection is taken from the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House.

My example: The calls by Senators Kennedy and Kerry for a filibuster on Justice Alito’s confirmation seem certain to lead to a self-inflicted and embarrassing foofaraw.

I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it.


Jeff at Peace Like a River is a quick study, describing the foofaraw over the Colleen Rowley gaff. (And somewhere, Blois Olson is smiling).

9 thoughts on “Challenging Word of the Week: foofaraw

  1. Fiddlesticks. British words aren’t pretentious, they’re just British.

    Seriously though, I have difficulty knowing the difference since my dad’s a Brit and mom picked up some of the patois when she was there. I still end up spelling color and labor with a ‘u’ half the time.

    In other wourds, I’ll stick with kerfuffle.

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