June 14, 2007


It's rather unclear what my job is as the only member of the staff at the Youth and Popular Culture (YPC) desk here at Language Log Plaza, but if I had to guess (and I often do), I'd say it was to comment on youth and popular culture, but instead I seem to just be around for the senior writers to accuse me of mischief, to make fun of my speech, to expose my bad puzzle skills, to spy on me while I'm doing research, to accuse me of picking fights, etc.

I should have paid more attention when I applied for the position. When they asked me if I "already owned" a TV, a PlayStation 2, or an iPod, I didn't realize that they were just hoping I had one or both so that they wouldn't have to buy these "luxury items" for my research (or, as Senior Writers Pullum & Zwicky always say to me, "whatever it is that you do in that windowless space we'll call 'an office' to amuse ourselves").*

This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the powers-that-be at LLP wouldn't even give me an allowance for a cable TV hook-up at the office, which combined with the fact that I spend most of my waking hours here means that I miss, oh, I don't know, a good two-thirds to four-fifths of popular culture while it's happening. And this is how I missed the series finale of The Sopranos on HBO two nights ago.

Mind you, I still haven't seen it. But I hear that the writers are taking liberties and just making words up (or perhaps just using them incorrectly). The word that has the Sopranos bloggers a-buzz -- apparently uttered by Tony in reply to Paulie in the series finale -- is "miffled".

I'm not much of a word sleuth, but a little digging reveals that "miffled" has been around for a few years, with various different apparent meanings, some of which coincide with several people's feelings about its meaning in the context of the Sopranos episode -- a blend between "baffled" and "miffed".

Here's the earliest example I've found in my admittedly very superficial digging. It's from August 2001, where it seems to have the meaning of "fiddle".

Tried MP3's and videos, nothing made sound. After that I have miffled around and after uninstalling and reinstalling and rebooting I still can not get a sound even though the Device manager in System properties states that the card is functional.

Here's another example from May 2005, where it seems to mean "mixed".

Yeah that's a miffed Bunny making miffled metaphors.

There's also "Miffled" as at least one person's avatar, the origins of which are explained here in July 2005.

Well my user name goes back years. Its a sloppy cake of all the silly things I say. I have many names must of them around Maffle, Faffle, Smiffle.. etc' But Miffle is from what I say from time to time in a different chatting area, my tummy box is miffled.

A few times here I have said things are miffled aswell!

(I wonder if this is the same person ...)

Of special interest, perhaps, to Language Log readers is this example from March 2006, where it appears to just mean "miffed". (The topic? "English grammar is chaotic".)

That's not an opinion; for better or worse many would-be reformers do naturally base their reforms off their own dialects. There's nothing to get miffled about.

Here's one from July 2006, where it appears to mean "baffled" + "miffed" as in the example from The Sopranos.

I am somewhat miffled by the reaction so far in regards to this new message board structure by yhoo. IMHO it is signifcanlty better with threaded view as I do not have to waste time with post who’s content was worthless.

But just last month, someone explicitly analyzed "miffled" as "miffed" + "muffled"

Z.Stardust: Please try to type in proper English. :) People generally get a little miffled (is that being used in the right context?) with txt talk.

Cold as Ike: You mixed miffed with muffled, star =P. It should be miffed.

Z.Stardust: I personally like miffled better, but thank you. :p

This next one is undated, but is a good self-reflective example.

"Um... After the fight... I don't carry my check book on this flight suit." Quatre sweatdropped slightly. Shannon looked miffled. Yes, miffled.

Just for kicks, I checked out what UrbanDictionary.com had to say. As of this posting there is no entry for "miffled", but two unrelated entries for "miffle" from Aug. 2004 and Oct. 2003.

So did the Sopranos writers make the word up? Maybe, but there's at least one small piece of evidence for its use in roughly the same sense from almost a year ago. In any event, now that it's been broadcast in the middle of a major cable-television event (that I must emphasize I had to miss)**, nobody better try to pass it off as a new word at the Open Mic in Chicago tomorrow.

[ Hat-tip to Kate Davidson. ]

[ Comments? ]

*Note to self: finish extended diatribe about the non-recycled-water fountain just installed in main outdoor lobby of LLP in time for summer.

**Please send financial support to: Young Bakovic's YPC Desk Cable Fund, c/o Language Log, Closet Under the Stairs, Language Log Plaza. Generous donations of $1000 or more are completely tax-deductible and come with a free subscription to Language Log (satisfaction guaranteed).

Posted by Eric Bakovic at June 14, 2007 01:58 AM