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Don't put the kibosh on this one

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Frank Schultz
May 29, 2012

It’s rare that the people who run our public schools leave me smiling. I’ve been covering schools for well over a decade, and I frequently find faults in the way educators use the English language. They employ plenty of jargon, as do other professionals, but the bureaucratic language -- dry, stiff, often using the passive voice instead of saying who did what -- can drive a reporter to distraction.

So when I read a memo from Janesville public schools Superintendent Karen Schulte on Tuesday, I had to smile.

Schulte was explaining her restructuring of administrative positions when a very non-education word popped up:

“Certainly our fiscal constraints create more urgency and focus in this area than is typical, and I am not wanting a kerfuffle to occur in any of our departments as a result of reductions or changes to our staffing at the administrative level.”

I love that word. I wonder what Dr. Schulte has been reading.

According to the World Wide Words website, “kerfuffle” is of Scottish origins and means commotion or fuss.

My spell checker claims it’s spelled “kafuffle,” which is not as much fun as “kerfuffle,” in my opinion, but it’s as good a spelling as any. World Wide Words says that up until the 1960s, kerfuffle was spelled all kinds of ways, including curfuffle, carfuffle, cafuffle, cafoufle and gefuffle.

In recent history, “kerfuffle” has tended to appear most often in newspapers, according to the website. This comes as no surprise. Newspaper people have a penchant for finding alternative words and also words that tend to catch one’s fancy or are just fun to pronounce. I would guess that “brouhaha,” “hullabaloo” and “kibosh” also are journalism favorites.

English is full of quirky words. What are your favorites?



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