Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Congestion Question

Posted by Neal on January 23, 2008

Saturday morning: As I scrubbed the dried-up remains of last night’s cat food out of the bowls, Doug entered the kitchen. He sniffed. “Blueberry muffins!” he exclaimed. His favorite. He looked around to see where they were. None were in sight. “Oh,” he said. “I forgot. I always smell blueberry muffins when my nose is stoffed up.”

How unusual, I thought. This calls for some investigation. As I tore open the pouches of slimy brown rectangles of chicken liver, I asked, “Stoffed up? Is that a combination of stopped up and stuffed up?”

Doug looked up from scooping dry cat food out of the bag. “I guess. It’s just what I say.” Then he added, “Adam says it, too.”

“Really? I never noticed that. Hey, where is Adam, anyway? He’s supposed to be doing the water bowls.”

Adam refuses outright to deal with cat food, wet or dry, because of the smell, so he’s been assigned to water-bowl duty. I knew I’d seen him in the kitchen just a few minutes before, so what was he doing now? I headed toward the basement, to see if he had slipped down there to play videogames, but stopped when I saw Adam coming into the kitchen again. He was still in his pajamas, but he’d gone back to his room to put on socks and shoes. He hates walking through puddles of water in bare feet, and hates doing it with just socks on even more.

“Hey, Adam,” I said, as he picked up a water bowl. “Can you fill in the blank in this sentence? It’s hard for me to chew with my mouth closed, because my nose is all BLANK up.

“Stoffed,” Adam said.

Wow, Doug was right! So was stoffed up an intentional or accidental blend? I’d say it’s an unintentional one that proved to have staying power. First of all, Doug and Adam don’t habitually make word blends. And for some circumstantial evidence, this kind of blend is consistent with typical unintentional blends, which tend to be made of words that are more similar to each other in length and component sounds than words that are intentionally blended. (I learned that from this paper by Stephan Gries of UC Santa Barbara, who credits the finding to Donald G. MacKay of UCLA.)

And why stoffed up and not stupped up? Just chance, I guess. I Googled both “stoffed up” and “stupped up” and got about very few hits for either of them. For “stoffed up”, I got only a dozen or so hits, some of which may just be typos, given the proximity of o and u on the (Qwerty) keyboard. For “stupped up”, I got about 200 hits. Some of them seemed to be typos for “stepped up”; a few others seemed to be a British idiom meaning “to make available”, as in Her parents have stupped up the cash for her!. Many others were humorous spellings for “stuffed up” by people trying to write the way a person with a cold would speak. I don’t know why [f] would be affected by nasal congestion, since air doesn’t come through your nose for that sound. You only need your nose for [m, n, ŋ], which makes it especially distracting when someone writes something like “by node is stupped up,” ignoring the n and needlessly changing one s and the ff. But after looking past all those cases, it seemed there were a few where the writers were talking about nasal congestion without trying to use humorous misspelling and still wrote “stupped up.” For example:

My nose is stupped up …i cough up that nasty mucus. My head throbs. the other night i had a fever of 101. I cant smell or taste anything. (link)

Of course, this could be an o/u typo as easily as the stoffed up examples I found. But it could also be intentional as easily as the stoffed up examples.

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11 Responses to “Congestion Question”

  1. Viola said

    I tried to download “this paper” by Stephan Gries unsuccessfully. Can you check on this?

    As an aside, I find it quite unique Doug can smell blueberry muffins when his nose is stoffed up. Kind of inspires me to think of tirimisu, my ultimate favorite dessert, the next time my nose gets stoffed up. I digress…where can I find the best tirimisu ever…since I haven’t had it in years?

  2. david said

    Just FYI, I think ‘stupped up’ as in “to make available” is a typo or mistaken spelling of ‘stumped up’, which works for me (Southern British English) in the example you give.

  3. Lee said

    Viola – sounds like you need an Adobe Acrobat plugin (or an update to it) for your browser; I didn’t have any trouble with the link to the paper. What happens, exactly, when you click on the link?

  4. Lee said

    Does the title of this post remind anyone else of an ABC School House Rock song? :-)

  5. Viola said

    Conjunc junc junc junc junction…What’s your function? Are we dating ourselves?

    Thanks for the tip Lee. I’m working on updating the Adobe Acrobat reader. Sorry Neal….I’ve got to get this dinosaur’s software up to speed to truly appreciate this blog.

  6. Lee said

    I’m afraid so :-)

  7. Mary Ann said

    Okay. I haven’t been a regular reader, but I’m hooked now. I never gave much thought to blended words ’til last month when I hiring a new secretary. The interviews included a question asking the candidate to describe a frustrating situation from her last job. One candidate told me in great detail about a flustrating situation complete with several references to how flustrated she was. Finally I couldn’t resist saying, “You know the word is frustrated, right?” And she answered, “You mean flustrated?” I decided to save time and skip right over the questions about attention to detail and how she deals with being corrected.

  8. Lee said

    I first heard flustrated about 10 years ago. I was quite surprised to find it in my Webster’s (Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary – based on the First Edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language). It may also be found at Dictionary.com.

    Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though :-)

  9. TootsNYC said

    flustrated is a great eggcorn.

    My daughter created the word “sidestracted” for “distracted.”
    Sidetracked+distracted, then blend.

    I use it all the time now.

  10. cat foods should always be high in protein and also in dietary fibers so that they are always healthy `~~

  11. Carl said

    Years late to the party here, but I say “stoffed” as well. To me, it feels like “stoffed” is a word distinct from stuffed and usable more or less only in the context of stuffy noses. I don’t think this is something I independently invented. I’ll ask my mom later is if this is a word I learned from her or not. Perhaps English is evolving a new word here? You get 37,000 hits for it on Google if you set it to search verbatim.

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