Weird Words, Part 10

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1971 edition


This word is said to have originated in the American West where it has been spelled as “fofaraw” and “froufraw.” There are also other spellings.

In writings of the Pioneer West, it was used to describe the frivolous trinkets, baubles, and gewgaws (there’s another weird word) used in trade.

It is also considered to mean a “fuss about nothing” or “flashy finery.” It can mean excessive or unnecessary ornamentation or a fuss or commotion.

Those who are supposed to know these things think it might have come from the Spanish fanfarron, which means braggart. Or perhaps it is from the Arabic word farfar, which means talkative.

The earliest documented use of foofaraw is from 1848. I’ve said this before; do people actually scour all printed texts from the beginning of time to figure out when a word was first used in print? Boggles my mind to think about it.

At any rate, the word’s similarity to froufrou (which most people think of as frilly or fussy and supposedly refers to the rustling of a dress and petticoats as a woman walks) is unmistakable. And it could be that it was adapted to foofaraw in order to add another layer of ridiculousness to a description. In any case, the etymology is actually unclear and it could just be that someone said it one day in an attempt to find some other word and failed and then somehow it caught on. Kind of like the word “squinch,” which would seem to me to be a combination of “squint” and “scrunch.” I’ve seen “squinch” used in print and it refers to something you do with your eyes.


At the same time I ran across the previous word, I ran across hullabaloo. Imagine reading those two words in different articles in the same day. What are the odds? Well I suppose if you were reading a book by Dean Koontz, the odds would be pretty good. He’s introduced me to a number of weird words over the years. The first one I remember was bibelot, which is a small decorative ornament or trinket.

Hullabaloo means what it sounds like; a commotion or fuss, a very noisy and confused situation, a situation in which many people are upset and angry about something.

Etymonline says this: 1762, hollo-ballo (with many variant spellings) “uproar, racket, noisy commotion.” Chiefly in northern England and Scottish, perhaps a rhyming reduplication of hallo (see hello). Bartlett (“Dictionary of Americanisms,” 1848) has it as hellabaloo “riotous noise, confusion” and says it is provincial in England.


So, as you can guess, I just had to check out “hello.” I had never really given much thought to this word. Mostly I wouldn’t think of it as a weird word. And it is a word that seems to have been around forever. In a way it has and in a way it hasn’t.

It is mainly considered to be a greeting between persons meeting up and it was first recorded around 1848 (seems to have been a popular time for the invention of weird words). Early references are to the U. S. western frontier where “hello the house” was said to be the usual greeting upon approaching a habitation.

It’s said that it is an alteration of hallo, itself an alteration of holla or hollo. These were shouted to attract attention sort of like we might shout “hey” today. These words seem to go back to at least the late 14th century.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Old High German hala, hola, the emphatic imperative of halon, holon meaning “to fetch” as the basis. It was used especially in hailing a ferryman.

Its rise to popularity as a greeting (1880) coincides with the spread of the telephone where it won out as the word said in answering over Alexander Graham Bell’s suggestion of ahoy. And good thing it did. That’s just my opinion.

Since I always like to finish these up by using the weird words in a sentence, I will offer this, even though it isn’t just one simple sentence. I was a bit stymied for how to make just one.

Hello! Hello. Are you listening? Let’s not make a hullabaloo over all this foofaraw.

Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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