Thursday, August 25, 2011

Journaling about footling

When I'm writing in Word, the program often tells me that I am spelling a word wrong, or that it doesn't exist. So I head on over to and check it out for myself. Today it was journaling, which even they tell me doesn't exist. Oh, yeah? Just look at my blog and you will see that it does indeed exist, though I of course did not invent it. Even can't keep up on everything.

While I was on that page, I noticed their Word of the Day on the left sidebar, and footle seemed to me a curiously cute and appealing word (which Word also does not know), so I took the time to read about it. This is what I read:

footle \FOOT-l\ , verb: 1. To act or talk in a foolish or silly way. 
noun: 1. Nonsense; silliness.


Sometimes, on a good day, I would go upstairs with my duster and footle around the parlor, adjusting paintings and straightening cushions, knocking them into shape with such military precision that even my mother would have saluted them.
-- Marion McGilvary, A Lost Wife's Tale: A Novel 

"I say, Charlie, for any sake do play up tomorrow, and don't footle."
-- Rose Macaulay, Abbots Verney; A Novel

Footle has an uncertain origin. One candidate is the French se foutre, to care nothing." Another possibility is the Dutch vochtig, "damp or musty."

Not much to go on here, and it's confusing. What the narrator in McGilvary's book (I wonder if she is the Lost Wife...that might pertain to my discussion.) is doing doesn't seem to me either silly or foolish. It just reads like housework, done with energy.

I don't quite know what "play up" means, in the other quote given, so how am I to infer the meaning of what is given as the alternative behavior?

(One thing is clear, that people who add the subtitle "A Novel" to their book titles are more likely to use the word footle in the text.)

This all matters to me, because I've long been on a quest for a word for what some of us housewives do sometimes, on those days when I'm not under a deadline or working doggedly on a single big project. Instead, I do a little of this, a little of that, one thing leading to another; I am not in a rush, nor do I have urgent goals for the day, but I end up accomplishing quite a lot.

Do we just call this "housework"? I used to call it puttering, until I learned that there is too much of aimless, ineffective, and loiter in the definition of that word. When I am engaged in the behavior I am trying to find a word for, I am never aimless, and if I am not getting any physical work done for a few minutes, I am at least thinking hard or praying. And another question: As my computer and word processor are in my house, shouldn't I consider the work I do using those tools "housework"?

It gets complicated. Keeping the housewife healthy and able is part of the maintenance of the house, just as taking care of tools is a necessary part of the work of a carpenter's shop. So all those things I do that restore my soul are also housework. VoilĂ !

Once I was discussing this issue with my friend Herm, and told her about a word I coined to describe my style of puttering. It is serendipping. But it hasn't proved terribly useful to me, since only two of us in the world know it. I don't often need the word anyway, do I, if I am busy doing it?

Anyway, it appears that footle will not yet be of any help. Discovering it was part of my serendipping today, but did it accomplish anything? It gave me something to think and write about, and whether it was work or play, it was not aimless and it was fun!

Soul-nourishing gift from Mr Glad


Jeannette said...

He wasn't footling when he brought you flowers...
As part of my housework I just ate some green onions and French you say, got to keep the worker humming.

M.K. said...

My mother sometimes says she is "piddling," when she is doing a bit of this and a little of that, with no particular aim at accomplishing goals, and is generally enjoying herself with little nothings. Much like your "puttering." But she once told a British friend of hers that she was piddling, and the woman laughed out loud. Across the pond, it means something else.

Left-Handed Housewife said...

I like the word "footling," but only if you say it with a long "o" sound, so it rhymes with "tootling." I also like "puttering" very much. I'm going to have to ponder this and see if there is a word that strikes me as perfect.

If "footling" serves no other purpose it does make one think in a fun and imaginative way, which makes it a very worthwhile word indeed.

who has seeds to send you as soon as she gets organized enough to do it

Marfa said...

I love journaling. It's definitely a word! If footle is there, I think journaling definitely should's an odd word...I do like the words putter and piddle, though. I guess we can make up our own words, can't we?

Gumbo Lily said...

I putter, but it always manages to accomplish something. Maybe not to others, but to me. Fun post!

GretchenJoanna said...

Frances, the given pronunciation is more like "foot" at the beginning of the word, but I agree that it should be like "toot," or it is not near as much fun to say. As it seems I need to discover my own meaning for the word, why shouldn't I use my own sound as well? I know Marfa would be all for it.

And M.K., "piddle" never occurred to me for my needs, I'm sure because my mother and grandmother also used it for something else. At least, when I read your comment, the memory of them immediately came to mind and let me know that the word was already taken.

margaret said...

I like footle but apart from my mother the only place I've found it is in the Rose Macauley you quote. Yet I've used it often enough and other people seem to sense what it means even if they don't use it themselves.