What’s the difference between kerfuffle, commotion, and fuss?
- What’s all this kerfuffle about?
- What’s all this commotion about?
- What’s all this fuss about?
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I love questions concerning nuance :)
In those specific sentences I can't infer much difference, but there are indeed subtle differences in their definitions and uses. If it's all the same, I'll omit the dictionary definitions since you undoubtedly know them.
Here is my succinct list of each word's defining subtleties. Note that they are not comprehensive and are merely the differences*I* frequently notice.
Commotion: Does not necessitate a sentient being. Pots and pans clanging in the kitchen could be as much of a commotion as excited fans at a baseball game. To me, this is the most distinct word of the trio. When it does involve people, it is usually more than one or two.
You knew instantly that the storm had landed by the sudden commotion outside.
The team's victory led to a great commotion as the fans decided to celebrate by running wild in the streets.
Fuss: Requires a sentient being (or sentient beings) to bring it about. You would not say:
That rock was causing such a fuss.
Gah, that door is so fussy.
Kerfuffle: Kerfuffle concerns interpersonal disagreements. For example:
Emily's fussiness led to the serious kerfuffle that eventually ended her promising date.
In a way, the differences could be perceived as gradations or size, scope, and intensity. A commotion could be a mere raucous, a fuss is a raucous that is perturbing, and a kerfuffle is a specific type of interpersonal fuss.
Also, kerfuffle is the most fun to type.