LIFF (n.) A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover.
December 1, 2011 11:40 AM   Subscribe

"In Life, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist. On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society. " -- Douglas Adams, on The Meaning of Liff. And because it's Adams, there are some internet pages for your enjoyment.

Some folks have copied a few of the entries, giving you snippets of Liff. Then there are longer lists (as linked above the break, and available here as words with definitions behind the links). If you want your Liff digitally, but off-line, there's a Windows Help file version, and various fans have taken photographs of experiences from Liff, in that there Flickr group. Fans have also compiled their own lists of meanings paired with useless place names, making for Liff ever-lasting.

There's also an entry in The Salmon of Doubt that talks about the origins of Liff (Google Books, also on some weird sites that grabbed a bunch of the text but didn't really bother with formatting).

Finally, a (surprisingly) short TVTropes page on The Meaning of Liff.
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This is NOT what my grade school teacher told me my hometown name meant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2011


This isn't what they told me it meant either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2011

Just be glad you don't live in Toronto.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:48 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The book was co-written with the amazing John Lloyd of course.
posted by w0mbat at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

This book is so great that when I found a dozen remaindered copies in a bargain bookstore, I bought them all and gave them to friends. I still have a couple copies for my own use, even though I've memorized quite a bit of it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on December 1, 2011

I bought this book when I was a kid and treasured it. Oddly enough it was years before I actually read the introduction and realized the words were all place names!
posted by gubo at 12:07 PM on December 1, 2011

When I was 20 I had a summer job working at a oven and diswasher factory. We had to catch a bus to work at the ungodly hour of 5:45. The bus ride was about an hour and by the end I was inevitably cursed with a huby.
posted by Foaf at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2011

A lot of this text was from the Windows 3.0 LIFF.HLP distributed on an early Personal Computer World cover CD-ROM. It was supposedly done with the tacit approval of Adams and LLoyd.

Clabby/Clixby are the most useful ones.
posted by scruss at 12:42 PM on December 1, 2011

Personal favorite:

A street dance. The two partners approach from opposite directions and try politely to get out of each other's way. They step to the left, step to the right, apologise, step to the left again, apologise again, bump into each other and repeat as often as unnecessary.
posted by Wemmick at 1:19 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay,I am spilling the beans here:

Lent: Nice, clean, books in size order not to mention alphabetical, towels hung properly, feng shuai or however you spell it, for eleven-year-old girls in late seventies NY, just right just right.

Lentil: opposite of Lent (which we none of us, just Jews and Muslims, even knew was a holiday--fancy that! or a legume, no way we didn't eat those back then) Socks that fall down because the elastic doesn't work anymore. That was the actual origin. Leyla said to Vicki after a sleepover, "Ugh! My socks are so---Lentil!" And the communal parlance was born.

Books not in size order, crumbs all over the place. Your brother's hockey crap on the table when you were trying to do your homework. Lentil. Scratches and stains, some gunk on the sink, we all four of us readily agreed: "Lentil!"

Momunkus: that good feeling after you pee when you had to for a long time but were too tired to get up.

We were only in fourth grade, after all, but we all still use these words to mean what they mean (to us) and our husbands know what they all mean too. (There are a few more, but this suffices.)
posted by emhutchinson at 2:24 PM on December 1, 2011

Always loved the definition of Aberystwyth (quoting from memory here, please forgive minor inexactitudes): A nostalgic yearning for something that wasn't that great to begin with.
posted by pilgrim at 2:57 PM on December 1, 2011

pilgrim - close, and I think I like your version more (it makes me think of a number of mass-produced cakey-treats, like Twinkees).

Official definition: A nostalgic yearning which is in itself more pleasant than the thing being yearned for. More lyrical, but it doesn't match my feelings for Twinkees.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:48 PM on December 1, 2011

Plymouth: To relate an amusing story to someone without remembering that it was they who told it to you in the first place.

Apt. I do that all the time.
posted by rusty at 5:30 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anyone remember Sniglets? They were sort of the American version of Liff. I remember-

Furbling: stuck wandering a long, corralled space for a line even if there's nobody in front of you;
Discombebopulated: the state of being somewhat lost while driving a car and having to turn down the radio so you can figure out where to go next; and,
Wondracide: the deadly murder of white bread by trying to spread on too-cold butter.

There were so many more (I watched Not Necessarily the News just for the Sniglets section!).
posted by Addlepated at 7:21 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Abilene is a great word for the pleasing coolness of the reverse side of the pillow! Abileeeeeeene, nice and smooth and cool, JUST LIKE THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW.

I love this.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:14 PM on December 1, 2011

If you're looking for a preview of The Deeper Meaning of Liff, I just stumbled on a scanned and OCR-filtered PDF. The scan isn't great, but if you like it, you can get some versions for about $3 USD, shipped.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on December 2, 2011

What was the word that described the clot of motorists all obeying the speed limit in the vicinity of a patrol car?
posted by bystander at 2:28 AM on December 5, 2011

bystander, that would be a grimbister, found in The Deeper Meaning of Liff.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:46 AM on December 7, 2011

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