I got an interesting email today from my friend Ted back east. He had read my last blog posting and commented that the phrase I had used, sufficiently suffulsified, should actually be sufficiently suffonsified. I was curious, since I’d never heard suffonsified before. Neither word is in the dictionary, so that didn’t help me much. Since Ted is a bit of a word wizard, I deferred to him and changed my posting.
But then he did some internet trolling of his own, and came up with this, which I find a fascinating bit of history. Seems we were both right.
[Q] From Ruth Gaeta: “I hope you can run down an elusive phrase, part of which I can’t spell. It’s from Virginia-North Carolina, an older generation, (maybe a hundred years back) and probably from the Appalachians. Three different older friends remember their grandmothers using it. It means ‘I’m full’ or ‘I’ve had plenty to eat’. Phonetically: ‘My sufficiency is serrancified’.
[A] You’ve led me a merry dance with this one. I can’t find that exact word, but there are a number of close relatives around, which some American Dialect Society members have helped me tease out.The phrase seems to be a variation on a polite rejoinder that was once quite widely known and is still around. A host might ask if you have had enough to eat. Rather than just say that you had had enough, being fearful that so bald a statement might be taken as unrefined or ill-bred, you might instead say, “I’ve had an elegant sufficiency”. This presumably has its origin in some catch phrase old enough that it has had time to disseminate widely, since I’ve seen examples from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, and the USA. A possible source is a poem called Spring by James Thomson, dating from the middle of the eighteenth century, very widely quoted during that century and the following one:
Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books,
Ease and alternate labor, useful life,
Progressive virtue, and approving Heaven;
These are the matchless joys of virtuous love.
All the examples I’ve quoted seem to be jocular elaborations of satisfied, perhaps as subscriber G. H. Gordon Paterson suggested, a punning blend of sufficient and fancified, but nothing I’ve turned up shows how that word became so baroquely decorated in parts of North America. I suspect that it is from the same grandiloquent and flamboyant fashion that gave us words like absquatulate, but tying down its early history is hard, as it appears in no dictionary I can trace.