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My parents and grandparents used to describe smoking cooking oil as "stife". Has anyone else heard of this? Perhaps I've spelt it wrong?

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    Where are your parents and grandparents from? Dec 4, 2023 at 20:13

2 Answers 2

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Dictionaries of the Scots Language defines stife ("Also st(e)yfe; stoif") as:

A close, suffocating atmosphere, a choking vapour or smoke, a smoky sulphurous smell (Dmf. s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; s.Sc. 1971). Also in n.Eng. dial.

This would seem to apply to smoking cooking oil.

In other words, something that stifles; the word is apparently a back formation thereof. OED attests it as far back as 1636.

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Stife (also styfe) is a dialectal adjective for "poor air" according to A Dictionary of North East Dialect; the author has quotations ranging from 1868 to 2001. That definition matches with the smoky atmosphere that your family used this word to describe: not the oil itself, but the smoke that accompanied it. I can't find anything that matches your definition exactly—though the The English Dialect Dictionary's "A suffocating smell or vapour, reek, stench; a close atmosphere; smoke" comes closer, albeit with the caveat that it's used mainly for smoke from mines—but they're similar enough in meaning that I think this is the explanation for why your family uses that word.

As for if anyone else has heard of this, a 'Mr. Cat' over on Word Reference seems to have.

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