Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mistpouffers: Creepier Than Their Name Might Indicate

Sometimes a word’s definition simply does not match its form or pronunciation. For example, my word of the week. I’m fairly certain it can’t mean what it does, and it should rather refer one of the following:
  • a thing that exists in the Harry Potter universe
  • a euphemism for a rude noise made by the female anatomy
  • something your grandmother might call a male homosexual
  • a sort of cookie
  • a crop duster
  • a crotch duster (if that’s a thing maybe)
  • a synonym for whatchamacallit or cajigger
But it’s actually none of these. No, it’s actually a bit more sinister.
mistpouffers (MIST-poof-ers) — noun: unexplained noises that sound like cannon fire or sonic booms.
Chances are that if you’re hearing mistpouffers, you’re near a body of water. Picture yourself standing there, enjoying nature in all its wetness, when a clap of thunder disturbs the tranquility of the scene. But then you notice: no clouds. What the hell? That’s what scientists have been wondering since the first report of mistpouffers back in 1824. Ever since, prominent noiseologists have attributed the mystert sounds to everything from meteors to geothermal gas to the collapse of underwater caves. (Or, you know, aliens. Personally, I think it’s Cloverfields.)

And depending on what cursed part of the world you’re in when you hear these mystery noises, these above-water bloops, you might call them something else: brontidi in Italy, retumbos in the Philippines, Seneca Guns in the American Southeast, Moodus noises specifically in Connecticut, uminari in Japan, and Barisal Guns in Bangladesh.

But why mistpouffers? That is equally baffling, because no article that I can find lists an origin for the term. (I blame Cloverfields for this as well.) But I can at least guess were it came from. It seems possible that the term shares some connection with the French pouffer, “to burst out (as with laughter),” even if the closest relative this word in English would seem to be puff, which names an eruption of a different sort. The fact that another apparent term for this phenomenon is fog guns could possibly explain the mist in mistpouffers, and while it seems like the word could have also described some kind of smoke-belching gun or cannon, I can’t seem to find an instance of this word being used to name anything other than the noise. Oh well.

I suppose that if anyone’s looking into mistpouffers, it’s for the best that they’d be looking into not into the term but the sounds themselves, especially given the long list of other unexplained noises sounding off throughout the world, doubtlessly heralding the death of us all. By Cloverfields, of course.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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