Olde Timey Bookes full of Olde Timey Wordes comprised my area of study in grad school; this was only proper as so many of those words were/are thoroughly delightful. If you haven’t read The Tempest recently, maybe you’ve forgotten that in Renaissance England, mushrooms were often called mushrumps and pie shells were known as coffins. Although I am very partial to tasty archaisms, I also delight in refreshing neologisms; favourites of the last couple years include mansplain, derp, and dudebro.
Then there’s that strange and ever-growing genus of Not New, But New to Me, Words which is even more compelling. You know how it is: you’re bouncing along having a merry chitchat with someone who may be very charming but who also never surprises you with either big thoughts or odd words—and then they do.
I love it when this happens. It makes me feel humbled and wrong in a way that I really enjoy because, frankly, it’s pretty dreadfully dull to think you’ve got someone pegged, isn’t it? This happened recently at work; someone advised me to avoid starting a bun-fight about something that did, in fact, turn out to be of almost no import.
Conversational context conveyed the message clearly enough, but I had to check to see if bun-fight was a real word or merely another corporate stillbirth; I fretted, wondering if I’d been overhasty in my condemnation of Buzzword (first official language of rock-ribbed marketers and indentured MBAs everywhere).
Happily, bun-fight is, in fact, a real word. It does not mean at all what I imagined it would mean; you will be as disappointed as I was to learn that it does not refer to enraged rabbits rising up in multi-generational hatred against one another; there is no General Woundwort waiting in ambush anywhere in the etymology of the word bun-fight.
Its real meaning, if you don’t know it already, will not blow your dictionary-themed socks off:
A petty squabble or argument (Dictionary.com)
Also, for good plain, British fun:
A jocular expression for a tea party. (OED)
The second makes sense as, I suppose, does the first—if you stick to the fight but ignore the bun. (I never ignore the bun. Buns, especially those indigenous to tea-parties, are some of life’s most precious gifts to us.) There’s clearly a major gap in the fossil record of this word, because tea-parties are by their very nature antithetical to anything but peace on earth and goodwill towards men, women, a few exceptional children and, of course, taste buds and happiness in general. (Also, fancy hats. And sometimes creepy dolls.)
Having considered and sadly abandoned the solemnity of a War of the Bunnies, I jumped to imagining tea parties during which irritated church ladies bounce scones off one another’s heads. This notion quickly blossomed into church ladies, all sporting very stern and tightly laced buns, pelting one another with baked goods. The wordy joy didn’t end there, however; this happened next:
I imagined two extremely angry, be-bunned middle-aged women roaring their antipathy in one another’s faces like a pair of male elephant seals on the verge of a potentially fatal bust-up.
This, but with older ladies who haven’t accidentally left their clothes at the jumble sale:
Now that is an idea worthy of a gloriously silly word like bun-fight. (Please, sir, can someone make this beautiful dream a bad Photoshop reality for me?)