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Chris -- 2011-03-08

#1 2011-04-03 05:36:49

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2145

muffed << miffed

The verb “miff” is built from a seventeenth century noun that referred to a petty quarrel. Scholars are not sure where the noun came from. It may be, like “huff” and “pooh/pugh,” onomatopoetic.

Today we typically see the word “miff” in the phrases “to be miffed at” and “I am miffed,” expressions that became popular in Britain and North America about 50 years ago. To be miffed at someone is to be upset with, annoyed by, offended by the person.

As you can see from the examples below, the web documents a tendency to interchange “muff” and “miff” in these modern idioms. This substitution may be a garden variety malapropism. But I smell a whiff of eggcorn.

If it is an eggcorn, I can think of two different meanings of the verb “muff” that the speakers might have in mind. Possibly it is the sense of “muff” in the phrase “the shortstop muffed an easy grounder.” It’s hard to see how this relatively modern (nineteenth century) sense of “muff” fits with “miffed.” Could users be saying that they feel like they have been fumbled by someone and are angry with them?
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Alternately, the ones switching “muff” for “miff” may be thinking about the “muffle” sense of “muff,” as in “I muffed my ears against the cold.” A person who muffles you can certainly miff you. If you are muffed you are more than just miffed – you are reduced to an angry silence.

Speaking of going beyond – we might note here the recent appearance of the verb “miffle,” apparently a portmanteau of “miffed” and “baffled.” Eric Bakovic discussed it briefly on Language Log in 2007. His post was sparked by the appearance of the term on the much-viewed final episode of the TV serial The Sopranos.
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Examples of “muff” for “miff:”

Web hosting forum: “Does anyone know how i access the IMAP ‘spambox’ that collects all the spam email that SpamAssassin filters?.. [I]’m a bit muffed.”

Post on Australian TV tech forum: “Being a bit muffed, I called Foxtel while the install tech was still there”

Web journal: “So I’m a bit nervous, and I’m a bit muffed that that’s what she thinks of me”

Web Harry Potterish fiction: “Mate, I’m sorry I didn’t know, I just thought she was muffed that someone pushed her down the stairs and was to embarrass to come out.”

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