A “kerfuffle” is a commotion, a fuss, a ruckus, a disruption, a brouhaha, a bother, a hoopla, or a flurry. It may generate a lot of sound and fury, but rarely represents anything serious.
The word is informal; it doesn’t appear in my Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Up until the 1960s, it was spelled in various ways — curfuffle, carfuffle, cafuffle, cafoufle, even gefuffle. This probably means that it was used much more in speech than in print.
But, when the word became popular, the spelling settled out as “kerfuffle.” Lexicographers suggest that the initial “ker” imitates the initial sound of “crash,” like the similar words, “kerplop” and “kerplunk.”
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that “kerfuffle” was originally Scots. The first part, “ker,” may have come from Scots Gaelic car, meaning to twist or bend. The second part could be the Scots verb “fuffle” (now used only in local dialect), meaning to throw into disorder, dishevel, or ruffle. This verb first appeared in print in the early 1500s.
No obvious origin for “fuffle” is known and experts suggest it may be linked with Scots “fuff,” to emit puffs of smoke or steam, which in the late 1700s also had a sense of going off in a huff or flying into a temper.
The word is not well-known in the US and The Lima News (Ohio), March 22, 2006, had this to say: “President Bush used ‘kerfuffle’ Monday during an appearance in Ohio, and in so doing, he created a minor one himself. Some of the president-watchers on duty in the press gallery had to stop in mid-story and explain to America this novel new word from the man who gave us ‘misunderestimated.'”
There’s nothing like a good kerfuffle in politics to get your blood racing. The trouble is that it usually amounts to just that: a kerfuffle. Then you can fly off in a huff. A light blue huff would be nice, although some people do prefer red.