by Elif Batuman

My new go-to Kindle drunk-dialing author these days is Anthony Powell, whose twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time I cannot over-recommend for those needing to unwind in bed, with or without a drink.  When you finish one volume, you press a button, and there’s a new one right there!  Eleven times!  It’s like the future!  Not to show off, but, the way my memory is going, by the time I get to volume 12 I’ll probably have forgotten what happened in volume 1 anyway, so this could potentially keep me entertained for the rest of my days.

I’m also happy to report that Anthony Powell is improving my vocabulary, as I discovered yesterday when I got an email attachment from my super UK publicist, with the note: “More bumpf from [institution deleted].”

I realized that I knew the meaning of “bumpf,” i.e., pointless paperwork.  But, how did I know?  Was it metempsychosis?  No, it was Anthony Powell.  When I searched for “bumpf” (bumf, bumph) on the Kindle, I got like 14 hits, including this one from Volume 10 (Books Do Furnish a Room):

“I had quite enough of shuffling the bumf round when I was in the army. As a result I’ve developed a positive mania these days against pushing paper.”

As you can see, Powell is really good at conveying the meaning of a potentially unfamiliar word through context clues.  In this way, you can enrich your personal lexicon even when you are drunk and half-asleep.

In honor of my rapidly impending trip to the United Kingdom, I decided to look up bumf in a dictionary.  It turns out to be a contraction for “bum fodder,” originally used to designate toilet paper. Interestingly, the word seems to have retained its literal meaning primarily in China.


See also here.

Sorry to British readers, who knew all about bumf already!

Piece originally published at My Life and Thoughts | Creative Commons License