Small object of desire #17 – The Meaning of Liff

Talking of neologisms (see SOOD#16) reminded me of this.

Yes, you read that correctly – Liff not Life. 

The Meaning of Liff is a slim volume I treasure, the very definition of a small object of desire. I dip into whenever I need a quick pick me up. Never fails to make me laugh or at least go ‘hmmm…’

Written by Douglas Adams (of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) and John Lloyd, it is best described by the preface to the first edition, 1983:

In Life*, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society. 

*And, indeed in Liff.

Just in case it escaped your notice, the words and definitions in The Meaning of Liff derive from place names. 

Some of my favourites:

AMERSHAM n. The sneeze which tickles but never comes. (Thought to derive from the Metropolitan Line tube station of the same name where the rails always rattle but the train never arrives.)

BODMIN n. The irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay a bill together after a meal.

CHICAGO n. The foul-smelling wind that precedes an underground railway train.

EPSOM n. An entry in a diary (such as a date or a set of initials) or a name and address in your address book, which you haven’t the faintest idea what it’s doing there.

FRING n. The noise made by light bulb that has just shone its last.

HOVE adj. Descriptive of the expression seen on the face of one person in the presence of another who clearly isn’t going to stop talking for a very long time.

KENTUCKY adv. Fitting exactly and satisfyingly. The cardboard box that slides neatly into an exact space in a garage, or the last book which exactly fills a bookshelf, is said to fit ‘real nice and kentucky’.

LIFF n. A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover.  For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’.

LUSBY n. The fold of flesh pushing forward over the top of a bra which is too small for the lady inside it.

Now who can say they haven’t experienced any of those things? I actually use ‘lusby’ quite a lot these days. You see it on the streets everyday. And it’s amazing how much satisfaction I get from saying “nice and Kentucky” when something fits nicely into the space designated for it. 

There’s a facebook group about The Meaning of Liff (there’s a facebook group for just about everything these days) and the Flickr group is dedicated to photographing the places and words from the The Meaning of Liff or The Deeper Meaning of Liff.

And these guys – – continue the fine tradition.


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