I was surprised to find that the EL&U spellchecker refused 'fuddy-duddy' and was disappointed not to find any further information in the EL&U archives, so I branched out on my own.

Phrases.org states :

Duddy was a Scottish term meaning ragged - duds having been used to refer to rough tattered clothes since the 15th century. That usage continued for some centuries and is still heard occasionally, notably in the popular 19th century traditional song The Blackleg Miner:

It also quotes 'the breekums on thy fuddy' (1833) but misunderstands 'Scots dialect' about a certain part of the anatomy.

And finally we have :

Duddy fuddiel, a ragged fellow (1899).

The Ngram shows no preference AmE to BrE and begins around 1900, rises steeply in 1940 for some obscure reason, then settles down.

But none of this actually tells me anything about the way I, personally, use the expression to describe my own, old-fashioned, sometimes fussy and objectionable self, betimes.

Wikipedia has a half-hearted go at it :

may have originated as a fused phrase [...] American English, of uncertain origin.

Can anyone shed further light on this ?

  • 4
    ELU doesn’t have a computerized spellchecker. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 16:55
  • ...but your browser may (have an embedded spellchecker).
    – Davo
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


Early print occurrences of 'fuddy-duddy' and 'fuddydud'

As noted in JEL's answer, the earliest Google Books match for fuddy-duddy is from Ambrose Bierce, "The Haunted Valley," a story printed in the July 1871 issue of The Overland Monthly (published in San Francisco, California). The expression occurs twice in the story:

"Gee-up there, old Fuddy-duddy!" This unique adjuration came from the lips of a queer little man, perched atop of a light wagonful of fire-wood, behind a brace of fat oxen, who were hauling it easily along, with a simulation of herculean effort that had evidently not imposed upon their driver. As that gentleman happened at the moment to be staring me squarely in the face, and smiting his animals at random with a long pole, it was not quite clear whether he was addressing me or one of them; or whether his beasts were named Fuddy and Duddy, and were both subjects of the imperative "to gee-up." Anyhow, the command produced no visible effect upon any of us, and the queer little man removed his eyes from my face long enough to spear Fuddy and Duddy alternately with his wand, remarking quietly, but with some feeling, "Dern your skin!"—as if they enjoyed that integument in common.


"Gee-up, old Terrapin! He lies alongside uv Ah Wee, up the cañon. Like to see it? They al'ays comes back to the spot: I've been expectin' you. H-woa!"

At the enunciation of the aspirate, Fuddy-duddy, the incapable terrapin, came to a dead halt, and, before the echo of the vowel had died away up the ravine, had folded all his eight legs and lain down in the dusty road, regardless of the effect upon his derned skin.

The sense of the expression here is ambiguous, as the man given to shouting "Old Fuddy-duddy!" "Old Terrapin!" and the like at his two oxen is a madman.

Another very early instance, cited in Peter Bengelsdorf, American English Idioms in the News: Meaning and Origin (2012) appears in T.H. Haskell, The New Gloucester [Maine] Centennial, September 7, 1874 (1875), page 114, quoting the remarks of Alfred Haskell, Esq., of Portland, Maine, recalling his childhood days in New Gloucester:

There was an old gentleman who lived in a house which sat upon the spot where Captain CUTTER's house now stands. He went by the not very classical name of old "Fuddyduddy." His business was repairing carriages. Some of the mischievous boys painted a sign and placed it upon the stone wall, saying, "Wagons and sleighs repaired in the next barn by old Fuddyduddy."

This is a particularly intriguing instance, since Alfred Haskell is recalling people from his childhood, and it seems probable that this Alfred Haskell is the same one noted in Will's Genealogy Blog as having been born in New Gloucester in 1817 and having died in Portland in 1906. That would put the likely date of the prank sign directing potential customers to the repair shop of "old Fuddyduddy" to sometime between 1820 and the early 1840s. This makes it a remarkably early instance, if accurately recalled by Haskell at the age of 57.

Remarkably, a second very early instance of "fuddy-duddy" comes from another native of Portland, Maine. From a letter from Elizabeth Prentiss to "Miss Woolsey" dated June 23, 1872, reprinted in The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss (1882):

M. and I have driven at our out-door work like a pair of steam-engines, and you can imagine how dignified I am from the fact that an old fuddy-duddy who does occasional jobs for me, summons me to my window by a "Hullo!" beneath it, while G. says to us, "Where are you girls going to sit this afternoon.

Prentiss was born in 1818 in Portland, Maine.

Aside from Bierce's example, the earliest match that a Google Books search turns up is for the related term, fuddydud. From "The 'Fuddydud'," an editorial in California Knapsack (1892):

Now, in this edition of the Knapsack, it will be my object to warn my young friends against a common condition of mind, which, unchecked or unrestrained, leads on to a disagreeable habit of thought, and in time may develop the "Fuddydud." A "Fuddydud," as I know him, is a man who shares an opinion with himself but with no other person ; still he is quite willing that everybody should know what his opinion' is. As there are no female "Fuddyduds," there is no propagation of the species. He is not confined to any trade, profession or calling, and his presence among underwriters is merely incidental. Although, according to holy writ, "A fool is known by his folly," a young fool often escapes notice; so with the "Fuddydud;" he is not ripe as a rule before the noontide of life. The signs whereby you shall know him vary, and I will cite but one or two for purposes of recognition. ...

There are a great many good people who do not know a "Fuddydud" when they meet one, and they misjudge him, classing him in their minds as a self-opinionated ass or an egotistical bore, or some such common-place type, which is wrong and really an injustice to the "Fuddydud," who is of a different species an a higher family.

The earliest Google Books match for fuddy-duddy where the term clearly has the meaning "person set in his ways and out of tune with modern trends, fashions, methods, or styles" appears in a circular issued by C.B. Cottrell, reprinted in Printer's Ink (November 25, 1896) as "Dry Rot":

Every year teaches that the old, experienced man counts for less and less. It is not experience that is so much needed as courage and "drive." The old, experienced fuddy-duddy goes to the wall ; the energetic hustler gets the business, and his very impetus pays the bills of his errors of judgment.

The earliest Elephind match for fuddy-dud is eight years older than its earliest instance of fuddy-duddy. From "Honesty vs. Policy," in the Door County [Wisconsin] Advocate (June 14, 1890):

An offer of an extra twenty-five cents per day, however, brought Tim to the mark, and he went with Mr. Phillips, and commenced the work at once. This chimney was built entirely different from the other one. It was a sort of hanging chimney, like certain gardens that were built in very ancient times by some old fuddy-dud of a king to please a you[ng] and pretty queen, and Tim commenced to take it down at the bottom.

This item appears without byline or attribution, but I note that the same language appears in the "Calendar for the Week" in the South London [England] Press (December 30, 1865), in a search of the subscription-only British Newspaper Archive (to which I do not have a subscription. The next match for fuddy-duddy or fuddydud that the British Newspaper Archive finds, however is from the 1940s, so this 1865 occurrence is quite mysterious.

Elephind's earliest match for fuddy-duddy is from a letter to the editor of the [New York] Sun from a Boston reader (September 2, 1898):

Sir: I am a Bostonian, but I do not hesitate to address you, although you evidently enjoy making fun of us. There is no ill will created, and I believe, with many Bostonians, that, though some others claim more, THE SUN is more truly than any New York paper an American paper. Anger is often a healthy sensation, in that it proves a man to be alive. At home, when I desire the excitement, I read our old fuddy-duddy Transcript, with its wailings over the advance of the nation along it natural path, with the utterly absurd ravings of Garrison and Gamaliel Bradford, and the aesthetic drivel of Norton, though there are frequently articles with some sense, which only need a friendly answer.

Subsequent instances of fuddy-duddy (or fuddyduddy) appear in rapid succession. From "Straining at a Gnat and Swallowing a Mastodon," in the Cambridge [Massachusetts] Chronicle (February 18, 1899):

We advise the antiquated sputterbudget who controls tho destinies of our Brattle square contemporary to spend Lent writing an autobiography under tho title of "A Fossilized Journalistic Fuddy-duddy."

From "High-Spirited Queen," in the Salt Lake [City, Utah] Herald (January 8, 1900, reprinted from the Boston Herald]):

She [Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands] is not too amiable, anyhow, and, being a fin-de-siecle young woman, the old fuddy-duddy customs of royal ladies do not please her majesty.

From "Vivacious Plea for Realism," in the Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal (March 30, 1902):

But whatever it is, it is part of us and it is part of what makes us more fit subjects for soul-stirring, blood-stirring dramas than the canned variety of picturesque posers in their grandiloquent clothes—clothes that, when we come to think of it, are sufficiently indicative of the fuddy-duddy age.

And from the Kate Masterson, "The Decline of Angelhood," in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (November 5, 1905):

She wants to accent the new state of things and so she overdoes everything a little bit, right now, but she is keeping up with things at all events and avoiding the fuddy-duddy.

One early instance of fuddydud suggests that the term may have been in use as a popular name for some type of confection. From "Young Andy's Pocket," in Little Folks (March 1901):

O, bonbons pink as any rose and yellow as a daffy!/ O, chocolates and caramels! O, butter-scotch and taffy!/ Marshmallows and vanilla creams, gumdrops and jujube paste!/ O, checkermints and lemon rock—he scooped them out in paste./ O, wafers thin, cream almonds fat, and corncake nice and sticky!; O, chips and fudge and fuddydud, enough to make you sicky!/ Molasses cockylorums and sugared peanut-pops,/ And every other kind that you can find in candy-shops!

I have found no other mention of fuddydud as the name for some sort of sweet treat known to children in the early 1900s.

Early glossary definitions of 'fuddy-duddy'

The term fuddy-duddy appears in two glossaries recorded in one bound edition of Dialect Notes first in "Rural Locutions of Maine and Northern New Hampshire," in Dialect Notes, volume 4, part 2 (1914):

fuddydud, or fuddyduddy, n. Fussy person.

And again in "Terms of Disparagement in American Dialect Speech," in Dialect Notes, volume 4, part 3 (1915):

fuddy-duddy, a mature man lacking masculinity. "He's an awful old fuddy duddy." D[ialect] N[otes], III, 244.

The citation to Dialect Notes, volume 3, yields an entry from around 1910 that combines the two definitions mentioned above:

fuddy-duddy, n. and adj. A fussy man ; a mature man who lacks masculinity. " He's an awful old fuddy-duddy."

Unfortunately this volume of Dialect Notes seems to be available only in snippet view, so we don't have any context for the glossary in which it appears.

Harold Wentworth, American Dialect Dictionary (1944) identifies early twentieth-century use of the term in several parts of New England, extending to New Jersey in the Mid-Atlantic region:

fuddy-duddy. ... 1. n. A fussy person; a mature man who lacks masculinity;—derogatory.

[Recorded instances:] 1904 Maine in e[astern Mass[achusetts]; N[ew] J[ersey]. Also v. = act foolishly or ineffectually. **1907 e[astern] Maine 1914 Maine, n[orthern] N[ew] H[ampshire]. Current. Also fuddydud.

One of the most surprising things I encountered in my research was the absence of fuddydud and fuddy-duddy from the J.S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, Past and Present. Volume 3 ("Fla. to Hyps.") of this seven-volume work was published in 1903, after practically all of the citations listed in this answer had been published—and yet it overlooks the term completely. Still, it may be of some value to note the slang terms in the vicinity of fuddy-duddy that Farmer & Henley does identify, in case they may provide a clue to the origin of the missing term. Here they are:

Fud, subs. (venery). — The pubic hair. ... Also the tail of a hare or rabbit. [Citation from 1785 omitted.]

Fuddle, subs. (common). — 1. Drink. {Wedgwood : A corruption of FUZZ.} [Citations from 1621 to 1733 omitted.] 2. (common). — A drunken bout; a DRUNK. [Citation from 1864 omitted.] Verb. (colloquial). — To be drunk. [Citations from 1720 to 1889 omitted.]

Fuddlecap (or Fuddler), subs. (common). — A drunkard; a boon companion. [Citations from 1607 to 1785 omitted.]

Fuddled, adj. (colloquial). — Stupid with drink. [Citations from 1661 to 1888 omitted.]

Fudge, subs. (colloquial). — Nonsense; humbug; an exaggeration; a falsehood. ... Also as an exclamation of contempt. [Citations from 1700 to 1882 omitted.] Verb. (colloquial). — 1. To fabricate; to interpolate; to contrive without proper materials. [Citations from 1776 to 1859 omitted.] 2. (schoolboys') — To copy; to crib; to dodge or escape. [Citation from 1877 omitted.] 3. (common). — To both; to bungle; to MUFF. 4. (schoolboys'). To advance the hand unfairly at marbles.

None of these terms seems at all close to any of the cluster of notions comprehending "a busybody, a codger, a person of obsolete ideas, an old and ineffectual person" that dominate the earlier usage of the term. Much closer to the mark is fiddle-faddler, noted in Farmer & Henley's entry for fiddle-faddle:

Fiddle-faddle, subs. (colloquial). — Twaddling; trifling; 'little nothings'; ROT. [Citations from 1593 to 1876 omitted.] Adj. Trifling; fussing; fluffing. [Citations from 1712 and by 1863 omitted.] Verb. To toy; to trifle; to talk nonsense; t0 gossip; to make 'much cry and little wool.' [Citations from 1761 and 1873 omitted.] Also FIDDLE-FADDLER, one inclined to FIDDLE-FADDLE.

A fuddy-duddy, as the term has been widely understood and used over the years, may be a trifling, fussing person given to talking rot and making much cry and little wool. Nevertheless, I have not found any reference work that connects fiddle-faddle[r] to fuddy-duddy, and I haven't found any evidence that the two words are etymologically related. The similarity in meaning may simply be coincidental.

Another noteworthy absence of fuddy-duddy is from Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, which has no entry for the term (or its allies) at least as late as the fifth edition (1961)—a major challenge to the hypothesis that the term originated in that form in England, since Partridge focuses primarily on British slang. The eighth edition of Partridge (1984) has this entry:

fuddy-duddy, esp 'an old ...'; fuddy-dud. A fussy, old-fashioned, narrow-minded person; an 'old woman'; coll[oquial]: adopted ca. 1944, ex U.S.—the latter term, mostly Aus. arose derivatively ca. 1955. Fuddy-duddy may blend fussy + fogey, influenced by s. dud, an insufficient person; or it may be an altered reduplication of that dud.

Partridge may be right that fuddy-duddy spread through Britain in the 1940s as a result of exposure to U.S. usage, and that fuddy-dud as used in Australia was independently derived from U.S. fuddy-duddy in the 1950s; but fuddy-dud existed in the United States and possibly in England in the nineteenth century, and it is not entirely clear that the term originated in North America.

Recent dictionary entries for 'fuddy-duddy'

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010) has this entry for fuddy-duddy:

fuddy-duddy n., pl. -dies An old-fashioned, fussy person. {Origin unknown.}

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has this:

fuddy-duddy n, pl -dies {origin unknown} (ca. 1904) : one that is old-fashioned, unimaginative, or conservative — fuddy-duddy adj

And The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, tenth edition (2002) has this:

fuddy-duddy n. (pl. -ies) informal a person who is very old fashioned and pompous. — ORIGIN C20 (orig[inally] dial[ectal]): of unknown origin.

Where did 'fuddy-duddy' originate?

The examples noted in my answer strongly suggest that fuddy-duddy in that form is of North American origin. The earliest instance of the term that I found (from 1871) is from "The Haunted Valley," a story by Ambrose Bierce, who was born in Ohio, but had been living in San Francisco for at least five years when he wrote "The Haunted Valley." Subsequent published nineteenth-century instances of the term originated from California, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. And according to both Dialect Notes and Harold Wentworth's American Dialect Dictionary (1944), the term was especially prevalent during the earliest decades of the twentieth century in New England.

A contrary possibility is that it emerged from the northern English dialect term duddy fuddiel, as suggested by Jonathon Green, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2005):

fuddy-duddy n. (also fud, fuddy, fuddy-dud) [20C+] a fussy, pernickety, narrow-minded person, often with the assumption of their being old. [? Cumberland dial, duddy fuddiel, a ragged fellow]

fuddy-duddy adj. [20C+] fussy, pernickety, narrow-minded. [FUDDY-DUDDY n.]

The Cumberland connection noted by Green is undoubtedly William Dickinson, A Glossary of the Words and Phrases of Cumberland (1859):

Duddy fuddiel, N[orth] E[ast], a ragged fellow.

An earlier entry in the glossary notes that duds means "clothes" and that "Bits o' duds" refers to "the scanty wardrobe of indigence."

It is certainly possible that duddy fuddiel meaning a ragged fellow migrated from Cumberland to the United States in the early 1800s and evolved into fuddyduddy meaning an old codger. But I have been unable to find any instances of duddy fuddiel (or of duddy or fuddiel in the relevant sense) in U.S. sources. A further complication is the isolated but impressively early 1865 instance of "old fuddy-dud" in a seemingly modern sense in a London newspaper—an article that seems to reappear, uncredited, 25 years later in a Wisconsin newspaper. If the hypothesized transformation from duddy fuddiel to fuddydud[dy] occurred in England, it left the very faintest of trails.

Most intriguing of all is the 1874 reminiscence about "old Fuddyduddy" at a reunion in a small town in Maine that seems very likely to refer to a person and an incident from the 1840s or earlier. That instance suggests that fuddyduddy existed as a dialect term in New England in perhaps the modern sense of "old fogey" in the first half of the nineteenth century. How it got there, however, is by no means clear.

  • @ Sven Yargs Excellent stuff. Up-voted and accepted as answer. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 1:58
  • 1
    I added the 1872 instance of fuddy-duddy to my answer just now. I must say that the fact that two of the earliest three unique instances of the expression come from residents of Portland, Maine, is an extraordinary coincidence if it doesn't indicate an actual point of origin.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 20:23

'Fuddy-duddy' first appears in 1871 in the US, in a story called "The Haunted Valley" (July, Overland Monthly and the Outwest Magazine), written by none other than a 29-year-old Ambrose G. Bierce. Although the sense intended by the speaker in Bierce's story is not as clear as some might prefer, what is clear is that the epithet acquired its present sense honestly. The present sense describes some essential characteristics of the speaker in the story. What the present sense omits is that the speaker in the story was presented as a madman. The madman calls his team of oxen many things, but the first name he gives them, his introduction to the story, is "Fuddy-duddy":

"Gee up there, old Fuddy-duddy!"
This unique adjuration came from the lips of a queer little man, perched atop of a light wagonful of fire-wood, behind a brace of fat oxen, .... As that gentleman happened at the moment to be staring me squarely in the face, and smiting his animals at random with a long pole, it was not quite clear whether he was addressing me or one of them; or whether his beasts were named Fuddy and Duddy, and were both subjects of the imperative verb "to gee-up."

From that auspicious beginning in a story soon reprinted in at least two newspapers, the 29 July 1871 Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) and the 13 August Chicago Tribune, 'fuddy-duddy' is adopted in its present sense for a filler piece in the 16 February 1881 Boston Post (paywalled):

"Loring's Luck"
  "That's just Loring's luck" said one of Boston's fossils yesterday, as he stood in front of the Adams house holding his threadbare coat about his shivering form. "He hired that store opposite and last week opened with nothing but valentines. A man who pretends to know told me just now that Loring had sold between two and three hundred dollars worth each day since he opened. Now, if I had taken that store and put in that stock I shouldn't have sold enough to pay for the gas."
  The gentleman to whom this was addressed, quietly answered: "True as gospel. You never did have Loring's luck, and for the simple reason that you didn't have Loring's shrewdness. Loring took that store, put in the goods and then advertised in all the leading newspapers of Boston. That's what brought him his luck."
  As the fossil passed on the last speaker said to a friend: "When Loring moves his library and stock from the corner of Bromfield to that place opposite and draws all Boston after him, as his sure to do, I presume that old fuddy-duddy will keep on saying that it is simply Loring's luck. He is one of those who begain business forty years ago, and has not discovered that there have been any changes in the world since that time. He doesn't read the daily papers and wonders at Loring's success."

The contemporary sense of 'fuddy-duddy', an

old-fashioned person; an ineffectual old fogy

is firmly established by the time of the 1899 OED citation of 'Duddy fuddiel' from A glossary of the words and phrases pertaining to the dialect of Cumberland, wherein the sense is given as "A ragged fellow". However, that glossary first gave the sense as early as 1859, and the semantic drift to the current sense occurred in the US subsequent to the 1859 publication but prior to the 1899 publication cited by OED, perhaps influenced by Bierce's slantwise and inverted use in the story cited, which was adopted and refined to convey the sense shown in the 1881 filler piece in the Boston Post, et al. in US (but not UK) newspapers published in 1885, 1889 (x2), 1890, 1891, 1893, 1894, and 1898.

The compound, 'fuddy-duddy' (open, closed or hyphenated), seems to have first been used in the US. The origin story of 'fuddy-duddy', however, probably starts with its Scottish forebears 'fuddy' and 'duddy' and, in turn, their ancestors. The sense of those forebears does not have to be stretched far (unlike the "ragged fellow" sense of 'duddy fuddiel') to produce "an old-fashioned person; an ineffectual old fogy" (OED).

For example, the Dictionary of the Scots Language (hereafter SND) gives this adjectival sense of 'fuddy':

Hence ‡fuddie, -y, adj., short-tailed; short, thick, stumpy, of persons or things (Ork. 1929 Marw.); also used subst. for a hare (Bnff., Abd. 1825 Jam.) or as a nickname.

This sense follows ("Hence") a noun definition of 'fud', the diminutive being 'fuddie':

2. The tail of an animal, esp. of a hare or rabbit, the scut (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 214, fudd; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; ne.Sc., Ags., Fif., Peb., Ayr., Dmf., Rxb. 1953). Dim. fuddie. Phr. to cock one's fud, lit., also fig. = to perk up, to give oneself airs.

The ‡ in "Hence ‡fuddie, -y" is footnoted by

II. v., tr. To whisk or jerk the tail; intr. to frisk, to scud, to walk briskly or with a short quick step; "spoken of persons of small stature, and often with the notion of pride, or bad temper" (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 54; Abd.27 1930). Hence †fuding, frisky, sportive (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.).

So, altogether, we see what may be a short, thick, or stumpy, proud or bad-tempered, person who gives himself airs. That's only 'fuddy'. For the etymology (the ancestor of the Scottish forebear for the 'fuddy' element of the compound 'fuddy-duddy') of the verb (from which the noun senses derive), SND gives

[Cf. Icel. fuð, the genitals of a female animal, Norw. fud, id., the posteriors, Ger. -fut, id. In the vbl. usage, the word may be partly imit. with some influence, esp. in ne.Sc. forms, from Whid, n.1, v.1 Cf. Fid, Fidder.]

Moving on to the noun, 'duddy', modified by one or more of those adjectival senses of 'fuddy', SND gives

DUD, n. Also †dudd. Dim. duddie, -y. Also in Eng. dial.

1. An article of clothing. Gen. in pl. = clothes, used with humorous or depreciatory force. Since 17th cent. only in colloq. or slang use in Eng. Gen.Sc. Specif. the dud = the sackcloth (of repentance) in church penance.
†4. Fig. Used contemptuously of a dull, spiritless person, esp. “one who is easily injured by cold or wet” (Rxb. 1825 Jam.2). Also in Cum. dial. Now in colloq. use in Eng. of a useless or inefficient person.

For the ancestors of this Scottish forebear of 'duddy' in the compound, SND gives

[O.Sc. has duddis, poor or ragged clothes, from *a.*1508; Mid.Eng. dudde (15th cent.), a coarse cloak. Of unknown origin.]

While the information given in the foregoing, in total, may amount to too much information, too much is better than too little. It is easy to see how a small, stumpy, bad tempered or prideful (fuddy) and at the same time dull (duddy) person might be considered old-fashioned and ineffectual — especially when 'fuddy-duddy' is used in concert with the usual and customary collocation: "old fuddy-duddy".


The verb fuddle, attested in the OED since 1588, means to muddle the mind with strong drink. Fuddled originally meant intoxicated and later grew to mean muddled or confused. The derived verb befuddle appears some three hundred years after that, and befuddlement meaning “intoxication; confusion, stupefaction” appeared in the very first years of the 20ᵗʰ century.

You’ll note that that date for befuddlement coincides with the rise of fuddy-duddy. It therefore seems likely, but not — so far as I have yet been able to uncover — actually proven, that fuddy-duddy was originally a simple reduplicative term ultimately related to the old verb fuddle.

It would have been initially used to describe someone whose wits had become addled from a long lifetime of pickling them with spirits, and then over time the alcohol component faded leaving the term meaning with wits addled by old age and no more mention of alcohol. By the time fuddy-duddy was coined, the association with alcohol may have already been largely forgotten in fuddled, leaving only muddled confusion.

  • 3
    The problem is that 'fuddy-duddy' does not - in its modern usage - mean confused or incoherent or affected by senility. It relates only to the fussiness or old fashioned attitudes of the elderly (such as myself).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 21:35

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