Noun > Piffling

Noun > Piffling

As you breathe out, make a dismissive sound with your lips like “ppfff.” It’s a sound that says, “Whatever,” or “That’s dumb,” or “That doesn’t matter.

It’s the sound people probably had in mind when they started using the casual verb “piffle,” around 1847, to mean “to talk in a stupid way, to behave in a stupid way, or to use up in a stupid way.” Like this:

“Troy piffled to himself as he rummaged around in the attic.”
“Troy piffled around in the attic.”
“Troy piffled away his afternoon in the attic.”

We can use “piffle” as a noun, too, to mean “stupid talk or stupid nonsense.”

And something piffling doesn’t matter at all. In other words, piffling things are tiny, petty, trivial, and unimportant.

PIFF ling

Part of speech:
Adjective: “a piffling amount,” “the effect was piffling.”

Other forms:
piffle, piffled, piffler(s)

How to use it:
This word is funny, with an old-fashioned, vaguely British tone.

And because it’s so informal and so full of personality, it can be extra funny to plop it into an otherwise formal context. Here’s The New Yorker: “Brexiteers often summon the memory of Britain’s wartime resilience to indicate that we have what it takes to survive a piffling showdown with the E.U.”

And informal words like “piffling” work well for silly or ironic understatements, too. Here’s The Economist: “The properties of Washington, DC, are valued at a piffling $232 billion.” And here’s The Guardian: “There is even a tiny (black hole)– a piffling four million times as massive as the Sun – at the heart of the Milky Way.”

So, enjoy this kooky word as you talk about piffling amounts of time or money, piffling distances, piffling roles and tasks, piffling concerns and details, piffling talk, piffling offenses, piffling objections, etc.

Finally, because “piffle” is also a noun, you can just shout it out as a standalone response to anything stupid, nonsensical, or unimportant.

“Mr. Bejar is trying to create empathy among Facebook users, in what used to happen in real settings like the playground through social cues like crying and laughter. This may seem like a piffling side project to some. But I believe the success of social media largely depends on solving this problem and teaching users to be kinder…”
— Nick Bilton, The New York Times, 22 October 2014

“The insufferable downy-cheeked technocrats in my employ at the Onion News Net-Work have informed me that, due to some folderol about worm-holes aboard fantastical ships that ply the very oceans of the sky, my news organization can now see the future! … To which I said piffle—why would any-one in their right mind need to know the future?”
— “T. Herman Zweibel,” The Onion, 7 July 2010