John Polk (@ClichesGoneWild) noted on Twitter yesterday, “‘Chuffed’ means pleased… or displeased. Not helpful when a word is its own antonym.”

I was only familiar with the “pleased” meaning but the OED confirms that “displeased” is a legitimate thing, as in this from David Storey’s 1960 “This Sporting Life”: “I felt pretty chuffed with myself.”

I was inevitably prompted me to check chuffed (with either meaning) for NOOB-ness. A quick search of the New York Times archives suggests it deserves On the Radar status, but only in the positive sense (I couldn’t find a single example of the other one).

Most recently, Deb Amlen wrote last month in  Times crossword blog, Wordplay: “I was also pretty chuffed at the beginning because I was able to fill in so many of the long answers.” I’m not 100% sure that Amlen is American, but her online bio confirms residence (and suggests, to me, birth): “She lives in New Jersey with her family and her Extremely Spunky Border Terrier™, Jade.”

The word also appears in a Times article earlier this year about a “adventure design camp” in Texas: “For this camp, Mr. Dyer had made a massive, lusty grill from rusted steel pipe, after a design sketched by the chef Rene Ortiz. It was the first thing he had made besides fence work, and he was pretty chuffed about it.”

For the next Times use (by a non-Commonwealth speaker), you have to go back to a 201o post in the Dealbook blog: “And it seems that Ms. [Cara] Goldenberg does indeed feel chuffed about the meeting [with Warren Buffett].”

What will allow chuffed to rise above the radar? Well, my attention will be caught if I see it used in a U.S. source preceded by one of the customary British modifiers, well or dead. I’m not holding my breath.

51 thoughts on ““Chuffed”

  1. I have never heard chuffed used in the UK to mean anything other than ‘very pleased’. I would like to know the context of the OED Sporting Life quote because ‘to feel pretty chuffed with yourself’ is a standard – and entirely positive- phrase.

    And with reference to Deb Amlen’s nationality, I can assure you that no English person would describe their dog as being ‘extremely spunky’. That means something quite different over here…

  2. I don’t know the context but I trust the OED on this, if only because other citation (from 1964 Celia Dale novel) is clear: “Don’t let on they’re after you, see, or she’ll be dead chuffed, see? She don’ like the law.”

  3. The expression ‘chuffed off’ means ‘angry ‘ or ‘pissed off’ This is used in Yorkshire. I used to hear it often when I lived there
    ‘Chuff off!’ or ‘Get away with you’ or even aa a soft version of F*** off is also used.
    Other uses – ‘chuffed to bits ‘ as in thrilled to bits’
    Lets hope this starts the ball rolling!

    1. I’ve only heard of chuffed as pleased/happy. However, ‘chuffing’ has been used to replace a ruder word, as in “I’m chuffing fuming”, so I wonder if this is a link to the rarer negative usage.

  4. Chuffed = pleased in MY dictionary. As for Chuff Off and Yorkshire, well they ARE different up there! Dare I say – better? I can say that, I lived there and loved it. Urban dictionary gives a variety of other uses, as in reference to a smelly fart. It’s a great onomatopoeic word (I had to check the spelling) so liable to be applied and re-applied, and minted anew.

  5. Hearing “chuffed” at first it sounded to me as something unpleasant, something one would not be happy about. In context, however, I’ve always heard it used as a pleasant experience. I’m glad to read here finally that it can mean less than happy as well. Like Humpty Dumpty, who is the master here, you or the word? It means whatever I want it to mean!

  6. Isn’t “chuffing” the sound young bear cubs make around their mother? If so, it makes perfect sense the same word would imply “happiness” when used by humans…unless of course your mother was an unBEARable woman! hahahahahahahahaha!

    1. And the WINNER IS SmallHouseBigGarden!
      I wish I could vote many many times hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. I’ve never heard chuffed as anything other than pleased (with oneself). The opposite is, of course, dischuffed.

    Chuff as genitalia: hence the phrase “as tight as a gnat’s chuff”, meaning someone who is mean. Mean in the sense of stingy. Stingy in the sense of miserly, and pronounced with a soft g.

  8. As a noun, see Henry 4, Part 1. I’m not sure if it’s one of Shakespeare’s many coinages, but it is an excellent insult for the greedily corpulent.

  9. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned Harold Pinter yet? HIs novel “The Homecoming” put the phrase ‘chuffed to the bollocks’ into the open in the sense of being happy as a clam. Also, American journalist Robert Paul Jordan (once of the National Geographic magazine) used ‘chuff’ or ‘chuffed’ in 1964 to mean ‘pleased.’

  10. In the British Army in the 1950’s we used ‘chuffed to little NAAFI breaks’ and that meant we were really pleased. ‘Chocker’ was used as feeling really cheesed off, down in the dumps or downright miserable.

  11. I only know “chuffed” as meaning very pleased, but then the phrase “chuffing Nora” popped into my head. A quick google search showed that it was used in The Full Monty, which makes sense as I hear it in a Yorkshire accent in my head. I would say it’s one of those expletives that is fairly mild but sounds smutty at the same time.

  12. I’m used to hearing ‘chuffed’ (positive) and ‘dis-chuffed’ (negative). I’ve also heard ‘chuffing’ as a bowdlerisation of ‘f***ing’ (or other such word) though I suspect it probably got there from the Northern usage stated above.

    As the posts above show there are clearly local pockets of different meaning, to the discomfiture of anyone trying to pigeonhole general BrE usage!

  13. I’d always understood ‘unchuffed’ was the opposite of chuffed.
    A chough is a kind of bird – and chough is pronounced ‘chuff’
    Also ‘chuff’ is the noise steam engines make – so trains would have ‘chuffed’ into stations.

    I’m really glad I’m not learning English as a second language.

  14. Down at the station, early in the morning,
    See the little chuffer-trains all in a row,
    Watch the station master blow his little whistle,
    Chuff-chuff, whoo-whoo off we go!

    We used to sing this little ditty as kids in the 1950’s-but it doubtless is much older than that. Needless to say, it disappeared with the advent of diesel and electric.

  15. ”He’s up my chuff” is an expression used to describe the car sitting one inch from your rear bumper (it is usually a BMW).

    1. You mean an SUV….ANY brand, tho BMW’s tend to be more aggressive than others. Don’t forget, whomever is at the wheel is on the phone so they really do NOT know what they are doing. Yes, there are laws but BMW’s are Beyond Man’s Weach….sorry, my brain is in stall.

    2. A curious American has read your post…they are usually BMWs over here as well. This word will resonate from now on every time I’m on the interstate (motorway).

  16. The references to genitalia are incorrect. Any mention of “chuff’ in relation to that end of the body is definitely a synonym for “arse”, i.e. “as cold as a penguin’s chuff”.

  17. The more times that I have read the OED citation (“pretty chuffed with myself”), the more I am convinced that the compilers made a mistake: surely the sense can only be chuffed as pleased?

    Damn! I’m going to have to read it again, after about 40 yrs…

    1. I don’t get this…chuffed is pleased and if the onomatapeic reference is accepted, why not a fart? I found this quoted on another word site…and I agree with the summation: – – –
      [quote] I think the information posted in the question pretty much answers the question. Originating some time between 1825–35, the meaning of “chuffed” was negative. Not long after that time, around 1855–60, the meaning changed to a positive. Unless you were around over 158 years ago, you would probably not have a recollection of the first meaning. [end quote]

  18. This is a reply to Ben’s comment regarding “dead chuffed”. The site will not allow me a direct response to his comment.

    I suspect Ben is an American. Here in Canada, the term “dead chuffed”, especially for those who have ever watched Coronation Street, means the same as “right chuffed” or “well chuffed”. It was a favourite of Hilda Ogden’s. It most definitely to be very pleased with oneself.

  19. Easy to explain. House of Cards US is causing an exploration of the old UK version; one I’m most chuffed about. And apparently, I’m not alone. Would expect the Bruichladdich consumption to pick up here as fast as the term “put a bit of stick about” goes mainstream.

  20. Always interested in the uses of this word. I’m American, and my (married) last name is, you guessed it, Chuff! Kind of embarrassing to see all the negative associations with the word, but at least here in the US, the word or any of its derivatives are not in common usage at all.

  21. I’ve encountered “chuffed” (in the positive sense) twice this week alone from San Francisco Bay Area Americans on my Facebook friends list. Something is definitely going on here. I think the mainstream introduction of “chuffed” to Americans was an appearance of Hugh Laurie on Ellen DeGeneres’s TV show, in which they played a game of trying to stump each other with US vs. UK slang. But that was a couple of years ago; something has happened more recently to popularize the term further, perhaps a US-popular TV show or film. Anyway, I’ve screen-shotted one of the “chuffed” cases I saw recently if you want such evidence (the other I saw on my phone’s FB app, and couldn’t find it again later).

  22. I don’t know how I missed this post until referred by the later post, “couldnt-resist.” So, chuffed is one of those ambiguous words that can go either way, and which one must depend on context to decipher? On its own, it just sounds negative to me…rhymes with “cuffed,” as in “the cops cuffed him before putting him into the squad car.” On the other hand, the Urban Dictionary defines it positively: chuffed
    To be very pleased, proud or happy with yourself
    I just scored free tickets to the gig, I’m well chuffed!
    by dr.rob June 10, 2004

  23. I have to add a belated response as well. ‘Speaking chuff’ or ‘speaking chough’ is a phrase used by the inestimable Patrick O’Brien in his Aubrey/Maturin books set in the British Navy in the early 1800s/1810s. It means being cheeky or rude, and as far as his usage goes, it is restricted to being cheeky or rude to a superior. There is a scene in one of the books (The Letter of Marque, I think) where a group of seamen belonging to an obscure Protestant cult, the Sethians, are told to apologise to a senior officer for ‘speaking chough’. Sometimes O’Brien uses one spelling, sometimes another, as he was wont to do (e.g. with cappabar/capperbarre, etc.).

    The thing about O’Brien is that you never quite know when he is deploying his impeccable research or pulling your leg – e.g., he constantly refers to Locatelli’s great C major string quartet, when Locatelli never wrote a single string quartet in his life. So ‘speaking chuff/chough’ may be an invention.

  24. A ‘Chuffing Stick’ was used in rural parts of West Yorkshire/South Yorkshire to get a stallion aroused so that he could serve the mare. His genitalia were tapped with the stick, and eventually he would be ready – or ‘chuffed’ ie swollen and stiff. The phrase ‘up my chuff’ gives a little nod to the genital connotations of this colloquial term. “Eee I am chuffed!” Does not mean ‘I’m fat and lardy’ or ‘I’m a rough and common bloke’ … it means “I am happy and excited to see you, or just happy and excited” without the need for the stick! Like all words, it will have some innocent meanings too, but don’t go saying it around old ladies and babies in some parts of the North.

    1. etymonline.com, cites chuff-“swollen with fat” from 1520s. When a male of any species has an erection we refer to them as being happy or pleased. I’m reminded of Rik Matall’s line in Black Adder as Lord Flashheart “Am I glad to see you or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?”
      When the horse has been chuffed with a chuffing stick, he is well pleased or “well chuffed”.

      1. Quite possibly ‘chuffed’ in some of its contexts is related the various French words relating to heat-e.g. chauffeur: originally a boilerman, then a driver of very early cars-they were steam powered.

  25. Chuffed can mean Negative when used Ironically, it has also been used in context of Female Pubic area. I remember a female comedian telling a Joke about being Skint and not being able to afford an expensive Bikini Area Solution, so she bought something Priced as Chop Yer Chuff 50p. i.e about 30 Cents.

  26. Sorry, blokes, I’ve only ever heard “chuffed” here in the US to mean extremely angry or pissed. Was totally surprised, in reading an article from the Guardian online, that y’all use it to mean pleased. Strange (and interesting) how simple phrases can do an about-face on their meaning upon “crossing the pond” (meaning the Atlantic, and yes, I’m former Naval Officer).

    1. Totally agree. As a 74 year old American I’ve always thought “chuffed” was a negative. Was watching the British TV show import “Escape to the Country” where it was used often by one of the hosts. At first I thought he was not happy or somewhat upset but then came to realize it was a positive emotion he was describing. Go figure. Kind of like their use of “homely” as a positive attribute totally contrary to our use.

  27. As a West / North Midlander being Chuffed = Happy, Chuffed to bits
    Chuffing = prefix to being annoyed ie Chuffing Hell, Chuffing Nora
    ( Staffordshire saying)
    Chuff in Yorkshire meant a woman’s vg
    Then there’s a bird called a Chough but pronounced CHUFF

  28. A disagreement over the meaning with my husband led me to the OED, then here. We both are retired journalist; he a native Michigander and I am a Texan. I have heard (or read) only the “displeased” definition.

  29. This word doesn’t translate well. To say that chuffed=pleased ignores certain overtones. If I’m happy for you or pleased for you, I wouldn’t say that I was chuffed for you. There is an element of self-satisfaction and pride of accomplishment that is implied in the word Chuffed that the word Pleased just does not convey. It is a stand-alone word with no equivalent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s