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In Setting Free the Bears by John Irving, there is this passage.

Siggy, the pouf cloaked over his shoulders and pinched to his throat—moving past me, one bare foot arched as a cat’s back in wet grass—whooped over the magazine stand, was out the door and off down the hall. An utterly graceless pirouette round the stairwell, and his ballooning pouf snagged on the banister, just bending him backward as he took the steps; he let go of the pouf at his throat and went on. And he didn’t come back for it. It gave me a satiny wave from the banister, fluffed by the draft from the main door opening wide and fast.

My understanding is that a pouf is a sort of blanket or comforter. However, when I looked it up to confirm, I couldn't find it in the dictionary. Neither Merriam Webster nor the OED offer anything that looks fitting.

Does anyone have more information on this word and can confirm if I'm understanding it correctly? I'm sure I've heard it before, but the lack of results has me doubting myself.

Some additional lines from the book:

  • "I held the pouf like a bullfighter’s cape, keeping it out from under my feet."
  • "Siggy wrapped himself in the pouf."
  • "And Siggy came up the stoop with the pouf draped over one shoulder and down between his legs."
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  • Perhaps the garment is like a cassock and the author mistook it for a hassock, which is a pouf or pouffe. Commented Jun 2 at 19:44
  • 3
    When I grew up many decades ago, the only meaning I knew for the word was a sort of soft leather footstool stuffed with rags. It's not a common word. ... I suspect the best definition is "A soft or fluffy thing".
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 3 at 21:21

2 Answers 2

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There’s no doubt that a puff is bedding:

4.d. North American regional (chiefly New England).
A lightweight bed-covering filled with down, etc.; a quilted coverlet or duvet. 1862–
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

More doubtful is a direct connection between puff and pouf, at least in actual usage. But here we are:

pouf noun
variants or less commonly pouffe
1 : puff sense 3b(3)
Source: Merriam-Webster

That leads us to:

puff noun
3b : a fluffy mass: such as
   (1) : pouf sense 2
   (2) : a small fluffy pad for applying cosmetic powder
   (3) : a soft loose roll of hair
   (4) : a quilted bed covering
Source:Merriam-Webster

Never mind it’s 3b(4) — not 3b(3) — we’re looking for; close enough.

But while it’s not hard to make a mental connection between puff and pouf as regards to bedding, without usage samples, it may as well be an author affectation or an editorial oddity.

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  • Thanks! This is exactly what I was looking for. Strangely even when logged in I can't see that definition in the OED.
    – Connor
    Commented Jun 3 at 9:26
  • Does this link take you there when logged in? oed.com/dictionary/… Commented Jun 3 at 14:15
  • Yep that works, thanks
    – Connor
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:19
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    That's odd, I thought a pouf was a sort of cushion for sitting on. Commented Jun 3 at 16:23
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    @DarrelHoffman — I can find no evidence that a pouf is a blanket in French. Commented Jun 4 at 2:06
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perhaps this one
Merriam-Webster

pouf
2. a bouffant or fluffy part of a garment or accessory

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  • A cozy scarf or airy shawl in mohair or angora? Commented Jun 2 at 17:52
  • Thanks, I looked into that as well, but it looks like that describes something like the sleeves https://www.alesayifashion.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/product_img_9612_feature_img-scaled-1.jpg I can add a few other lines to provide more context.
    – Connor
    Commented Jun 2 at 17:56
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    Similarly, the OED has "A part of a dress or other garment gathered up to form a bunch; a piece of fabric gathered in this way. Also attributive, as pouf sleeve, pouf skirt, etc. Cf. puff". But neither seems quite right.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 2 at 19:25

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