Saturday, August 26, 2017


I think of the noun "stuff" as colloquial. Years ago, when our son was in his mid-teens, and like most men of that age informed his parents on a need-to-know basis, we were returning from a neighborhood party. Those of middle age and college age had been out on the lawn, the young had been in the basement. My wife asked about the basement:
Wife: Who was down there?
Son: People.
W: What did you do?
S: Stuff
 Colloquial, perhaps, but not modern, for happening this week to open George Cavendish's The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, I found
"Sir, then," quod I, "will it please your grace to move the King's majesty in my behalf to give me one of the carts and horses that brought up my stuff with my lord's, which is now in the tower, to carry it into my country?"
Well, what would one have said in place of stuff? "Property" or "belongings" would serve now. The OED gives several pages to "stuff", with citations going back to the 1400s in the sense of personal property.


  1. "Stuff" used to be cloth (maybe anything not silk), and that sticks in my mind from reading novels, I suppose.

    I suppose a British teen would have been considered rude to use "stuff" in that way, as their slang is rather different from ours.

    1. I believe that the term is still applied to cloth, but I could be wrong. The next time that I have half an hour to kill at Discount Fabrics in Thurmont, Maryland, I'll see whether they have a catalogue to check this with.

  2. My dad told me our similar conversations used to go thus:
    Him: Where are you going?
    Me: Out
    Him: Who with?
    Me: Friends

    1. Were you more forthcoming with your mother? The mother of one of my son's (female) friends was a great source of information in those years. I said that girls would write a small epic, and epic, and boys would scratch out a rune or two, to be deciphered as best one could.

    2. My mother knew better than to ask