Is there any word more versatile than the word ‘stuff’? It’s an informal way of saying ‘things in general’, for physical objects, such as all your worldly goods, “I put my stuff in storage and went around the world”, or just what you’re holding, “Where can I put my stuff?”.
It can also mean ideas generally, “I read some interesting stuff” or “She really knows her stuff”.
The word comes from Old French estoffe ‘quilted material, furniture, provisions’ from estoffer ‘to equip’ from the Greek stuphein to draw together’.
You can do stuff for each other or you can use it as ‘etcetera’ – “she learned ballet and yoga and stuff”. “That’s the stuff!” is said in approval of something that has been done.
To stuff yourself means to eat very heartily, but if you don’t give a stuff you don’t care, and you might say “Stuff it!” If you say, “I’m stuffed!” it means either you’ve eaten too much, or you’re exhausted.
To be stuffed up means to have a blocked nose from a cold, and a stuffy room is one that is not well-ventilated. A person who is stuffy is uptight, narrow-minded or ill-humoured. A stuffed shirt is a conservative, pompous person.
A stuff gown, on the other hand, is the gown worn by most lawyers, as opposed to silks worn by those of Queen’s Counsel. Here the word stuff means any material other than silk.
To stuff means to pack the inside of something with a material. Poultry can be stuffed with a breadcrumb and herb mixture, a mattress or pillow can be stuffed with padding or feathers and the job of a taxidermist is to stuff the skin of a dead animal to make it look lifelike.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar used stuff in Marc Antony’s speech: “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff”.
Also, in The Tempest, Shakespeare used the line, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep”. The lines were spoken by the magician Prospero to remind his daughter that life is fleeting.
It’s all a lot of stuff and nonsense, or is it hot stuff? Stuffed if I know.