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Recently I found the following definition for the word "scurryfunge":

(Verb) Old English; to rush around cleaning when company is on their way over.

Usage: I scurryfunge when I see my mother in law coming over. –definition-of.com

I was wondering if this word was recently invented by someone (recently as in, on the internet), or if the word actually has some real historical usage as suggested.

  • There is only one hit for it in the COCA corpus (a false positive), meaning it has no contemporary currency. But I did spot it in several compendia of "old weird words" in Google Books. But bear in mind people throughout the ages loved wordplay and neologisms as much as any living person, so while someone may have coined this word a long time ago, that doesn't mean it saw any meaningful usage. – Dan Bron Aug 15 '15 at 0:14
  • Well, it isn't an old word, and I don't think it's one most native speakers would understand. So it depends on how you define "word" – keshlam Aug 15 '15 at 13:46
  • 1
    Based on the answers that have been given so far, it looks like it's not actually technically "Old English" (since that period is considered to have ended in 1066) but rather Middle English or archaic Modern English. Still historical though! – sumelic Nov 5 '15 at 21:25
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The OED does have an entry for the word as 'scurrifunge' (cross-referencing the form 'scurryfunge'). The rather amusing etymology given is

A word of jocular formation, used in various senses with little or no discoverable connection.

The sense you give is, approximately, shown as "to scrub, scour" (transitive), without source quotes. Another sense ("to wriggle about") appears as early as 1777-8 in a book called Spare Hours (Horae Subsecivae), by R. Wright.

Searching for 'scurrifunge' on the web reveals an appearance in a 2012 edition of A dictionary of archaic & provincial words, obsolete phrases, proverbs & ancient customs, form the fourteenth century Volume 2. There the sense given is a fragment from the senses found in R. Wright's book: 'to lash tightly'.

Another source on the web, "Words and Phrases from the Past", has found the sense of 'to search for marine curiosities' in The Gentleman's Magazine, July to December 1889. That site also gives a more complete context for one of the quotes in the OED.

The word makes an appearance in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (1982), where the additional senses of 'to do anything briskly ... to work or walk hurriedly', 'to scrounge, cadge or wheedle', 'to clean thoroughly, scour', and 'to scold, reprove' are given.

  • 1
    I composed and posted my answer before the answer from @Josh61 had appeared in my interface...if I'd known, I probably wouldn't have bothered to post, but because there is some additional information in my answer (and because I don't really know how to delete it), I'll leave mine in place for the time being. – JEL Aug 15 '15 at 6:41
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Apparently this dates from 1882 according to https://www.englishrules.com/2007/favorite-forgotten-words/

And it does appear to predate the Internet at least, listed in John Gould’s Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, and Wazzats, 1975, according to https://pierwiastekzla.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/wordsmithery/

Aside from those two sources, however, I could not find anything earlier.

  • That second link does have a beautiful collection of old words - well worth a read. Some I recognised from Old Norse words we learnt at school - lovely to see them again – Rory Alsop Aug 15 '15 at 0:16
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Evidently both scurrifunge and scurrifungeing (in various spellings and pronunciations) are current words in Newfoundland English. Here are the entries for these two words from Dictionary of Newfoundland English: Second Edition with Supplement (University of Toronto Press: 1990):

scurrifunge v C[ompare] [Joseph Wright,] E[nglish] D[ialect] D[ictionary (1904)] ~ v 'to lash tightly, coire', fung v 3 'to do anything briskly...to work or walk hurriedly' Sc[otland]; Kilkenny Lexicon scurryfunge 'to scrounge, cadge or wheedle.' 1 To clean thoroughly, scour [Newfoundland example from 1970] — as to clean out a dirty sink [Newfoundland example from 1957] 2 To scold, reprove. To scurravunge someone [Newfoundland example from 1979].

scurrifungeing vbl n. See SCURRIFUNGE. C[ompare] [Joseph Wright,] E[nglish] D[ialect] D[ictionary (1904)] fung 1 'to strike beat kick' Sc[otland] for sense 2. 1 A thorough cleaning. The charwoman gave an instance of this word when she was about to clean a table—she gave it a good scurifunshin [Newfoundland example from 1965]. If a child comes into the house with a dirty face or dirty hands his mother will say to him 'You need a good scurrafungin'—a good washing or cleaning up. It may also be giving a good scrubbing or cleaning to anything that is dirty [Newfoundland example from 1971]. 2 A trouncing; decisive defeat in a game. We received a scurrafungin'. We were beaten in playing cards many times in succession [Newfoundland example from 1966]. In a fight, the man who received the most marks or took the most punches was said to get 'some scurrifungen' [Newfoundland example from 1971].

As those entries suggest, Joseph Wright, English Dialect Dictionary (1900, 1904) does indeed have the specified entries for scurrifunge and for fung.

The problem here isn't the phantom nature of the words, since they turn out to be very real indeed; it's the multiplicity of possible spellings, pronunciations, and meanings. The two Dictionary of Newfoundland English entries contain seven different spellings for scurryfunge/scurryfunging—and that list has numerous obvious gaps in it (such as scurryfunging itself) that would bring the total number of variants to 60: scurrafunge, scurrafungeing, scurrafungen, scurrafungin', scurrafunging; scurrifunge, scurrifungeing, scurrifungen, scurrifungin', scurrifunging; scurryfunge, scurryfungeing, scurryfungen, scurryfungin', scurryfunging; plus another 15 variants with a v replacing the f in the first 15 variants; plus another thirty variants with an sh replacing the g in the first 30 variants. Additional variants are undoubtedly possible.

Searching Google Books for some of the less common variants yields matches like this one from Isabella Steward, The Interdict (London, 1840):

Mrs Mulligan, though very much affronted, and bent on scurrafungeing Lanty and the cow, never relaxed in dinner preparation. The perfume of roast pig, black pudding, and drisheens ["Sheep's fry"] might have provoked the mandibles of Epictetus.

3

The term is an old one of uncertain origin and probably of dialectal usage.

  • Its first documented usage appears to be from 1777 - Horæ Subsecivæ (in English Dialect Dictionary) :"SCURRIFUNGE to lash tightly; coire".

The following source (Words and Phrases from the Past) gives the following possible definitions of the term:

  • 1) To scrub, to scour ( dialect?)
  • 2) To lash tightly ( obsolete dialect)

  • 3) To wriggle about (dialect?)

and says that it is:

  • a word of jocular formation, used in various senses with little or no discoverable connection

Another definition is suggested below From: The Gentleman's Magazine Volume CCLXVII July to December 1889:

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From: The Works of William Cowper: Edited by Robert Southey Volume IV, 1854 Cowper's Letters, 1788-1799

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Acknowledging those that have gone before with this one... I'd venture that there's a lot of Scots/Norse dialect at the root of the Newfoundland dialect, because the 'scurr' in scurrifunge is pretty clearly derived from the Old Norse 'skire' or 'skir', which had the meaning 'to cleanse, clear or purify'(c.1300) or 'clear of, free from, something morally bad' As the Oxford English Dictionary has it:

skire ▪ I. skire, a.Obs.
Forms: 3, 5 skir, 5, 8–9 skire; 4–6, 9 skyre, 5 skyr.
[a. ON. sk{iacu}rr (Norw. and MSw. skir) clear, pure, = OE. sc{iacu}r shire a. In later use only Sc.]
1. Clear of, free from, something morally bad.
c 1200 Ormin 8015 Þatt genge þatt wass milde & meoc,..& off galnesse skir & fre. Ibid. 12194 All þatt ahhte off eorþliȝ þing Þatt Godess þeowwess haffdenn..i þiss middell ærd Iss all skir fra þe deofell.
2. a. Of water: Pure, clear.
13.. E.E. Allit. P. B. 1776 Þay..Asscaped ouer þe skyre watteres & scaþed þe walles. a 1400–50 Alexander 2119 Scamandra þe slire [read skire: Dubl. skyr] flode þe scriptour it callis.

Funge is interesting. According to the OED 'fung' is a common Scots variation of 'funk', which had the meaning (particularly of a horse) 'to strike or kick' and prance about kicking up dust. Again from the Oxford English Dictionary:

VII.funk, v.3Sc.north.
(fʌŋk)
[app. onomatopœic; a variant fung is common (see Jamieson).] trans. and intr. To kick.
c 1709 Auld Grey Mare i. in Jacobite Songs (1887) 56 You've curried the auld mare's hide, She'll funk nae mair at you. Ibid. v, The good auld yaud Could nowther funk nor fling. 1821 Blackw. Mag. Nov. X. 393 The horse funkit him aff into the dub. 1823 J. Wilson Trials Marg. Lyndsay xxxv. 294 The beast's funking like mad. 1834 M. Scott Cruise Midge (1859) 375 The quadruped funking up her heels and tossing the dry sand with her horns. 1892 Northumbld. Gloss., Funk, to kick, to kick up the heels as a horse or donkey does. ‘To funk off’ is to throw the rider.
Hence ˈfunking vbl. n. Also ˈfunker.
1823 Blackw. Mag. Mar. XIII. 313 It's hard to gar a wicked cout leave off funking. 1825–80 Jamieson s.v., Dinna buy that beast, she's a funker. 1852 R. S. Surtees Sponge's Sp. Tour (1893) 219 The move of the hounds caused a rush of gentlemen to their horses, and there was the usual scramblings up, and fidgetings, and funkings.

So a vigorous cleansing (with an element of chaotic energy and some disregard for gentleness) might be called a 'funging skirr' or 'skirring fung', hence (possibly) 'skirr-a-fung or scurrinfunge. Funk (as in 'blue funk') meaning cowardly or fearful probably comes from the same behaviours of a horse, but with the view that it's an undesirable trait, rather than an indication of vigour and alarming energy.

  • Any idea why the OED would be shy about speculating on the sources you mention? Or, from another angle, any idea why documentary evidence of those sources might be absent or missing? – JEL Aug 16 '15 at 17:33
  • I'd observe that the OED is not given as much as we here are to speculation, and didn't have the benefit of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English that was referenced elsewhere on this website. Whoever made the entry an the OED for scurrinfunge hinted at the origins when they suggested it was a 'jocular formation' and referenced 'scrubbing' and 'wriggling' The 1200 and 1300 references I quoted are from the OED (Skire (adjective and verb respectively)). The OED links Skire to earlier forms such as skir and makes the archaic Norwegian link and notes that it is only currently used in Scots. – John Mack Aug 24 '15 at 16:33
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scurry as in quickly + funge as in to change in the sense of fungible = quickly make changes i.e. clean. Layman's etymology.

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