E.F. and the Meaning of Liff

Around my office and among my friends, we have this term called “E.F.,” which stands for “Embarrassed Feeling.” It’s basically a succinct way to refer to that feeling you get when you’re embarrassed for someone else because of the awkwardness of the situation, what that person is saying or doing unwittingly, etc. and out of politeness, there’s nothing you can really do about it other than grin and bear it. For example, when you’re in a group of people and somebody starts telling a story that becomes weirdly personal so as to make everyone else uncomfortable or when somebody is trying to tell a funny story and nobody is really responding, but the person just continues awkwardly and desperately with it anyway. E.F. is also a common phenomenon when watching episodes of Three’s Company, owing to the absurdity and general hi-jinks of their plot lines, usually based on some implausible misunderstanding and the ridiculous chaos that ensues (just look at the entire premise of the TV show itself).* There are a number of opportunities and situations in which you get E.F., but at least for me, it’s a particularly torturous feeling that I get on a semi-regular basis and it’s a small comfort to have a term with which to quickly refer to it.

Like E.F., there are a lot of common things out in there in the world that we’re all aware of, but don’t have real words or phrases to capture them with so we can refer to them in our daily conversations. The Meaning of Liff, aside from being terribly amusing, manages to capture a lot of those things, whether the word be adjective, verb or noun, made-up or real:

One who asks you a question with the apparent motive of wanting to hear your answer, but who cuts short your opening sentence by leaning forward and saying ‘and I’ll tell you why I ask…’ and then talking solidly for the next hour.

The irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay a bill together after a meal.

To shout at foreigners in the belief that the louder you speak, the better they’ll understand you.

For the American reader, it may feel a little strange– the book was written by two Brits, Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) and John Lloyd (who also worked on parts of the radio series of The Guide and produced all four Blackadder series, another favorite of mine), and its contents have a markedly British tone. (Of course, I opted for the authentic UK edition, shiny and new, shipped over from the UK.)

In any case, for those who love words, even made up ones, and being able to sum up the daily idiosyncrasies of life, you should take a look.

Get a random meaning of Liff

*And as my co-worker said of Jack Tripper, “he had such a 70’s f*cking haircut, I just wanted to punch him in the face.” (No offense to John Ritter, God rest his soul. Despite probably being best-known for playing Jack Tripper, he did a lot of other work that I thought was much better and certainly induced less E.F.)

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