Burnt Toast Editorial

The #NoBullshit Publishing Consultancy

Category Archive:Ben Jonson

Know someone who boasts, puffs themselves up or is tight with their money? Then you have our #wonderword of the week 

Puckfyst – a crazy word you might say. Is it even a word? In fact it’s an Old English word that like many have now slipped out of common usage. Its etymological root is the noun puck (a mischievous nature sprite) + the noun fist or fyst (the fungus known as puffball). 

Lycoperdon bovista, “Flora Batava of Afbeelding en Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Gewassen, IX Deel”, Jan Kops (1846). Illustration by Christiaan Sepp.

Puckfyst has three definitions 1) relating to the fungi Lycoperdon Bovista that contains dusty spores which when disturbed allow the fungus to distribute into the wind allowing reproduction; 2) a term of contempt for a braggart; 3) a niggard, someone who is mean and close-fisted. So should you meet or know a person who boasts, puffs themselves up or is tight with their money, then you have found yourself a puckfyst.

The first published record of the word is 1598 in the Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonsons Every Man In His Humour: “To be enamour’d on this dusty turf, This clod, a whoreson puck-fist”.

He uses it twice more in his work, for example in 1601 in Poetaster (a poetaster being an inferior poet with artistic pretentions, first coined by Erasmus in 1521): “I’ll blow him into aire, when I meet him next: He dares not fight with a puck-fist.” 

Not so surprisingly puckfyst or puckfist is found in books on farming, the earliest record being 1766 in The Complete Farmer: “The narcotic, or stupefying fume, is made with the large mushroom, commonly known by the name bunt, puckfist, or frog-cheese.” ¹

In writings on bee-keeping it is first mentioned as early as 1609: “Next vnto Brimstone [for smoking bees] is the smoake of Bunt or great Pucfists, Tuchwood, or Mushrums.”

¹ Miles, W. J., The Complete Farmer: or a General Dictionary of Husbandry, The Society of Gentlemen), 1766.