Words: piffle, n. and v.

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF this year's fascinating, little-noticed books, The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, first appeared in 1705, after the death of its author, who had the splendidly Firbankian name of Georgius Everhardus Rumphius. The book has only now been translated from the old Dutch, by E.M. Beckman, who brings this hefty study of tropical fauna all the allure of Sir Thomas Browne or Darwin, and remarks of his including contemporary comment, "It is instructive at times to experience piffle in order to appreciate what is superior."

Piffle was originally a verb - to act feebly - in the mid-19th century, perhaps from Scandinavian, and by the Nineties the noun was an Oxbridge coining. Pifflicated followed: drunk, for which there was already the 18th-century spifflicated.

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