There are little moments in my life that sometimes make me think the scenario presented in The Matrix might just be reality, after all.
Specifically, the handful of instances where I have encountered someone using an English word in conversation that I am certain I’ve never heard before, and then I find out it’s “an old word, going back a century or more.” And once I’ve heard it spoken, I suddenly stumble across it everywhere — on television and radio, in print, in reruns of shows I’ve seen dozens of times. And I think, “How did I never notice this word before now?”
The two that leap most readily to mind are “kerfuffle” and “growler.”
From Dictionary.com —
|Part of Speech:
|disorder, commotion; also written curfuffle, kafuffle, gefuffle
I had never heard the word “kerfuffle” before meeting Kara. When we were first dating she used the term, and I reacted with surprise. “A what?” I asked. Then, after we looked up the word in a dictionary, I saw it everywhere — in the newspaper, in books, in old episodes of M*A*S*H.
This phenomenon happened to me again recently when some friends at a barbecue spoke of pouring beers from a “growler.” I asked what they were talking about, and they showed me 64-ounce glass bottles that can be purchased at many supermarkets and beverage distributors. Once you own the bottle, you can take it to places that sell draft beer for take-home and have them fill the bottle.
I asked if this was some new marketing idea, and I was told again, “No, it’s an old word, going back to the nineteenth century, the Five Corners era of New York City.” Apparently, the word “growler” has been around in this context for a long time. So how did I get to 40 years of age before I ever heard it?
Now it’s part of my daily life. I keep a growler in the fridge, filled with whatever looks good on tap at the beverage place near where I live.
But are these really old words, going back more than a century? Or are they just examples of how we perceive the Matrix patching a flaw in its code by retconning a word into our vocabularies?
Something to think about (or not) while enjoying another pilsner of beer from the growler. But no need to get worked up if you disagree — it’s not worth causing a kerfuffle.