The current topic for the writing group is ‘stuff’ – which is certainly different, open to many interpretations and ideas, but somehow there are too many diverse thoughts. Certainly despite our recent journeys to the charity shops with bags of precious items to recycle, and to the tip with other bags of less precious items to chuck, our house seems crammed to the gunnels with ‘stuff’. I decided to look for the etymological origins of the word – if in doubt find out if there is anything interesting in its origins. I guessed it came from Latin via French, thinking of étouffer – to stuff, except of course, étouffer doesn’t mean to stuff at all, it means to muffle or to muzzle. This is not going well, and it goes less well when I start to google stuff and the blasted auto-suggest takes me to stuffed peppers, which by the way, I have never managed to cook successfully, ditto stuffed tomatoes, but that’s another story.
To my favourite etymological sites, http://etymonline.com , which tells me that stuff does indeed come from the French, but not ‘étouffer’, but ‘étoffer’ which in modern French means to enrich/beef up/fill out (as in making bigger not completing a form) Stuff as an English verb meant to stock up or provision and I guess the stocks and provisions became stuff as a noun. It also meant to cram full of something, which we still use today, and from that to stuffing – the stuff which has been crammed in somewhere.
To return briefly to the stuff with which our house is – well, stuffed, we just have so much of it. There are many reasons why, and I think one reason, particularity with me, is that I was brought up with not much, so each thing was precious, and not to be thrown away if there was the least use for it or the possible future use for it. I have an attachment to things which belonged to my parents and which hold some memory or association for me. Without telling tales, another reason for stuff is the duplication of items; this is not my fault, this is my husband. If he can’t find something (no doubt because it’s hidden by other stuff) he will buy another one at the first opportunity. This has become worse while shops have been closed because, of course, there’s the ever open on-line shopping experience available. There was the famous time when we were staying with cousins, when first thing in the morning he couldn’t find his watch. He got in a bit of a tizz (to put it mildly) and the upshot was, he rushed from the house, drove to the nearby town and bought himself another one. To be fair, it was only a cheapy, but he still didn’t need it especially since within minutes I had found his watch in his pyjama pocket.
I mentioned stuffed peppers and my lack of success in making them; I am not so fond of them that I really mind my lack of success, but I do wish I could find how to make the stuffed tomatoes like the ones I used to have in the south of France. The tomatoes themselves were so full of flavour, the stuffing wasn’t soggy, sludgy or gritty, it wasn’t so heavy with herbs that it tasted medicinal, it was soft and flavoursome and just wonderful. I think now that maybe it was eating them under a Provençal sky, drinking cheap but delicious wine out of plastic cups with friends, and being young and carefree which made them taste so impossibly good.