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I'm reading "Right Ho, Jeeves" by P.G. Wodehouse and I've just encountered another phrase which I can't understand. Full sentence where this phrase is used (emphasis added by me):

I fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, I consider that of all the dashed silly, drivelling ideas I ever heard in my puff this is the most blithering and futile.

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I love Wodehouse, but I would definitely hesitate to use him as a guide to current English usage, or even idiom. The English upper class have always considered it their privilege to use words - and spell them - however they damn' well please, and if other people don't understand, well! whose fault is that? Wodehouse came from that set, and in his Jeeves and Blandings novels he not only captures their way of speaking but takes it to new and absurd heights. Read, enjoy - definitely enjoy! - but don't be too worried if some expressions seem strange - they were meant to. –  MT_Head Jun 26 '11 at 17:21
    
I love Wodehouse too. He only had one plot, but a hundred entertaining ways of expressing it. –  thursdaysgeek Jun 27 '11 at 20:09

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I never heard this expression before, and it doesn't seem to have much currency today (but see comments below - it's still known to some in the Midlands / north of Britain).

It seems pretty clear to me the meaning is in my life, and I'd guess puff in this sense means something like breath (i.e. - for all the time I've been alive and breathing.

I would not advise using the expression, since many people (not just OP!) will probably not understand it.

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I've never heard the phrase "in my puff" in my puff, but I think it's worth reviving. I found this from the man who coined word quark: "You never saw the like of it in all your born puff." -- James Joyce, Ulysses –  Malvolio Jun 26 '11 at 17:19
    
@Malvolio: Well found! Although I agree it's quite a 'nice' expression, in the final analysis I can't really endorse reviving it. Presumably many others feel the same way or it'd be current today. Anyway, of the pitifully few references in NGram, it seems most of them relate to Wodehouse in the first place, so it seems the expression never did have any real currency. –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '11 at 18:46
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Most British English speakers would certainly still understand "in my/your puff" -- in particular, it's still quite commonly heard in the West of Scotland. But it's really only heard in a humourous context nowadays. Here's a recent example of its usage on a football (soccer) forum from a west of Scotland poster: bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A72915393. –  scottishwildcat Jun 26 '11 at 21:47
    
I am British too (East Midlands) and I immediately understood it--prior to reading this answer--to be a euphemism for breathing, substituting for life. I had not consciously heard the expression before. –  Nicholas Jul 23 '13 at 13:22

The phrase "in my puff" means "in my life", as in "I've never heard such a load of rubbish in all my puff". This expression is still widely used in Scotland, especially around the West Coast, and in Glasgow in particular. It was a favoured expression of my father who was still using it up until he died, aged 70, in 2008 !

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