Origin of 'piffle'

Posted by R. Berg on March 18, 2002

In Reply to: Origin of 'piffle' posted by ESC on March 17, 2002

: Does anyone have more information on this word? A coworker thinks that "piffle" was a word created by an author. I couldn't find anything to support that.

: PIFFLE, PIFFLING - "Piffle is twaddle, nonsense, idle talk. There have been many suggestions concerning the term's origins, including the words 'puff,' pitiful,' and a combination of 'piddle' and 'trifle.' The word is first recorded in this sense in 1890." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

From the OED:

Piffle, v. dial. and slang. [?Onomatopoeic, with dim. ending: cf. also Sc. 'pifer,' 'pyfer,' in cognate sense.] intr. To talk or act in a feeble, trifling, or ineffective way. Hence 'Piffling' vbl. sb.* and ppl. a.
1847-78 HALLIWELL, 'Pifle,' to be squeamish or delicate. 1864 MRS. E. LYNN LINTON 'Lake Country' . . . Pyklin an' pyflin, thoo gits nowt doon. . . .
Hence 'Piffle' sb. foolish or formal nonsense; twaddle; trash. 'Piffler,' a trifler, a twaddler.
1890 'Sat. Rev.' . . . If there is . . . a certain amount of the 'piffle' (to use a University phrase) thought to be incumbent on earnest young princes in our century, there is a complete absence of insincerity. . . .

*sb. = substantive--that is, noun.