More on chuffy hot cross buns

I came across a newspaper article from the 1830’s or 40’s in which a man was brought before the magistrate for what was essentially being drunk and disorderly. His excuse for his condition was that he had eaten so many hot cross buns they made him thirsty and that is why he had drunk so much:

indulged rather too .largely in Hot Cross Buns, the  chuffiness of which had so stuffed his chest that he was compelled to imbibe more than he ought, to prevent the disastrous effects of indigestion.

I shall never ever think of a hot cross bun again without thinking of how chuffy they are! This brought me to wonder about the word chuffy and thence chuffyness. In this case it probably meant heavy, filling, bloating even. I had heard of chuff, and chuffed, and chuffing in various senses but never in this sense… where did the word come from? What was its etymology? What did it originally mean? Is it connected to the word chough which is a sort of bird (including the white-winged, red-billed and Alpine chough)?

My knowledge:

  • chuff… as in chuff-chuff-chuf, the noise a steam engine makes
  • chuff-chuff – a steam engine
  • chuffed – to be pleased with yourself
  • chuffing – a replacement swearword e.g. ‘I was chuffing annoyed
  • chuff – various meanings to rude to mention here

What I have discovered:

  • in the 1400’s a chuff was a stupid person, or as two hundred years later Dr Johnson defined it: ‘a coarse, fat-headed, blunt clown’
  • the being swollen or fat or swollen with fat meaning came from the 1400’s – so has it a different derivation?
  • by the 1800’s it had the additional meaning of being surly, annoyed or churlish
  • also from that time being chuffed can also mean being pleased with yourself (compare chuff being swollen/chuffed being pleased, and puffed being inflated and being puffed up with pride)
  • and thence a surly, annoyed or churlish person, also a stupid person
  • there was also chuffy meaning being surly, annoyed or churlish, or being swollen (as in the man who ate too many HCBs)
  • in the nineteenth century there was the onomatopoeic aspect – the sound of someone or something puffing – like the steam train… and also, dare I say, someone suffering from flatulence and the noise made!
  • it can also be to intermittently extinguish and reignite a powder charge
  • And I have discovered something very relevant to me as a writer, that chuff can mean superfluous small talk that is free of conflict, offers no character development, description or insight, and does not advance the story or plot. I need to be aware of that and avoid chuffing at all costs!
  • and this is a totally new concept – whereas a cat purrs, a tiger chuffs!
  • there are two other uses of the word as a noun which I won’t repeat here – they might be seen as vulgar!



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