Because yet again an article talking about different generations skipped straight from the Baby Boomers to the Millennials as if Generation X didn’t even exist, I decided to read, at last, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. I picked up a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition, because kill me now, how was my youth a quarter century ago. And on page 25 I saw a word that really caught my attention.
Actually, I saw a derived form of derf, but I’ll get to that.
Don’t mistake derf for derp. The word derp (suggesting stupidity) is much more recent – really only current since after the turn of the millennium. Derf has nothing to do with it. It also has nothing to do with dearth (which is from dear+th like width is from wide+th and sloth is from slow+th) or deaf.
Derf is not much used anymore as such, but it shows up in Oxford in two basic versions, with several derivative forms.
Derf the noun is (per Oxford) “trouble, tribulation, hurt.” It comes from deorfan “labour.”
Derf the adjective and adverb is either “bold, daring, courageous, brave” or “in a bad sense: bold, audacious, daringly wicked.” It can also mean “strong, sturdy, stout” or “vigorous, forcible, violent” or “painful, grievous; terrible, dreadful; cruel” or “troublesome, hard, difficult” or “grievously, terribly.” It apparently comes from Old Norse djarfr “bold, daring, audacious, impudent.”
So. Imagine the sound a superhero or supervillain makes when punching through a superobstacle or hitting the turf: DERF! That should make it stick in the mind. To put it another way, why say “This is tough” when you can really be forceful and say “This is derf!”
From derf and derf we get a few other words, and they are too good not to include.
There’s derfful, which looks wonderful but is quite the opposite – “troublous, hurtful” (yes, Oxford uses “troublous” in the derfinition).
There’s derfly, which Word insists should be deerfly though I think it’s more like the end of alderfly. It comes in adjective and adverb flavours. The adjective means “grievous, terrible, dreadful” and the adverb means “boldly; fiercely” or “forcibly, violently” or “quickly, promptly” or “grievously, terribly.” In other words, derfly is used in all the places we used wicked when I was in high school.
There’s derfness, which is not as in “Your Derfness” and also has nothing to do with deafness; it means “trouble, hardship” and “boldness, audacity.”
There’s derfship, which means “audacity.”
And there’s also a verb derve, derived not from derf but from the same deorfian that gave us the noun derf; it means “labour” or “trouble, grieve, hurt, afflict, molest.” (But who has deserved to be derved?)
There are also other derivatives not listed in Oxford that we can form, of course. For instance, just as I can say I’m hatted or jacketed or even re-beered, or for that matter puced or happied, without implying the existence of hat, jacket, beer, puce, or happy as verbs because -ed can be used to form adjectives from nouns and other adjectives, I can be derfed. Which means I can be endowed or afflicted with boldness, force, courage, audacity, trouble, or any of those other qualities that the adjective or noun derf implies. Or I can be described as having those, just as I might be puced if someone says “Whoa, dude, you look puce.” I could also be said to be bepuced, I suppose, and if no one has said I look puce, then I am un-puced.
Of course, since no one (except Gen Xers and Douglas Coupland, who is actually a late Boomer) talks about Generation X practically at all, and when they ever have it’s always about how we’re the “meh” generation (because that’s our reaction to the self-derfed Boomers) and “slackers” (because we don’t want to be the red shirts in their Enterprise expeditions), we are chronically un-derfed.
Which is the word I saw in Generation X.
The quote from Generation X is (ironically?) from a description of a Boomer character: “like an underfed Chihuahua baring its teeny fangs and waiting to have its face kicked in.”
You think it’s under-fed?
This book is the song of my generation and I will be so derf as to read it however I want.