“Fuddy-duddy” is a slang term for a stuffy, fussy, or foolishly old-fashioned person. It is mildly derogatory but sometimes affectionate too.
The word has been used throughout the 1900s. Synonyms are “frump,” “school marm,” and “old fart.”
The origin is uncertain, but “fuddy-duddy”may be American, possibly via Scotland. The first record appears to be from the Texas newspaper The Galveston Daily News, 1889:
“Look here; I’m Smith — Hamilton Smith. I’m a minister and I try to do about right … I object to being represented as an old fuddy-duddy.”
“Duddy” was a Scottish term meaning “ragged.” The word “duds” had been used to refer to rough tattered clothes since the 1400s. “Fud,” or “fuddy,” was a Scots dialect term for buttocks.
In 1833, the Scots poet James Ballantyne wrote The Wee Raggit Laddie:
“Wee stuffy, stumpy, dumpie laddie,
Thou urchin elfin, bare an’ duddy,
Thy plumpit kite an’ cheek sae ruddy,
Are fairly baggit,
Although the breekums on thy fuddy,
Are e’en right raggit.”
The Scots dialect is difficult to translate precisely, but the gist is: “Poor scruffy little lad, bare and ragged, your wet belly and red cheeks are swollen and the trousers on your buttocks are torn.”
A British term, “duddy fuddiel,” is recorded from about the same date. A glossary of words and phrases pertaining to the dialect of Cumberland, 1899, by William Dickinson, has:
“Duddy fuddiel, a ragged fellow.” There may be a link between “duddy fuddiel” and “fuddy-duddy” but we can’t be certain.
American newspapers from the end of the 1800s occasionally mention a pair of fictional characters called Fuddy and Duddy. We don’t know which came first, the characters or the word “fuddy-duddy” but since they all arrived at about the same time, there may well be a connection.
It seems certain that the cartoon character Elmer Fudd inherited the name from the phrase. “Fuddy-duddy” was in general use long before the character was created around 1940 and the expression fits his old-fashioned and obsessive temperament.
And I can’t think of a single funny thing to say about “fuddy-duddy.” Which may mean that I am one.