If there were any lingering doubt about the power of the oral tradition, the persistence of the expression "sufficiently suffonsified" would make converts. Dictionaries don't recognize the verb suffonsify or its variants, but a mention of the phrase here two weeks ago drew a flood of responses, most of them saying, "You've made my day."
Readers who had grown up hearing the phrase from parents and grandparents were intrigued to know it was in broader use. "I always thought my family was nuts, coming out with ridiculous sayings that no one understood," wrote Stephanie Lentz. "I now stand (gladly) corrected!"
Ann McRoberts wrote: "I was under the conviction that it was my grandfather who coined the expression 'sufficiently suffonsified'! I remember as a small child in England (back in the 1940s!) hearing him utter these words quite frequently, in spite of the very restrictive rationing in those war years."
Everyone agrees on the expression's meaning: that someone has dined well and is comfortably full -- has had an "elegant sufficiency," to use a venerable British saying. There is little consensus on the spelling, and sometimes the pronunciation.
The most common line seems to be, "My sufficiency has been suffonsified and any more would be superfluous." However, Joan Woodrooffe said her father Henry "wants you to know that in our family the saying goes as follows: 'My sufficiency is quite suffoncified, any more would be superstackabonious.' We have been using the phrase since the early 1930s."
Anne Olthof wrote: "We often quote Granny (my Mum) as we decline the last scrape of trifle left in the bowl. 'My sufficiency has been suffuncified. Any more would be detrimental to my gastronomic equilibrium.' " Monty Emerson offered his father's version: "My sufficiency has been suffonsified and any further sanctification might prove to be an incopious redundancy." Mildred Ulster offered her mother's line: "My sufficiency has been serancified."
Jerome Jesseau, who heard the term from his mother in central Newfoundland, said his mother's family was of Irish descent and suggested the phrase might have come from there. Betty Ellis: "My mother's ancestry was strictly British." Warren Standerwick: "If my mother was the source of the phrase in our family, it may be a clue that she was a fourth or fifth-generation Prince Edward Islander." D.W. Rowe: "I assumed it was a saying from the Southern United States -- North Carolina, in particular -- since about five generations of my family had lived there until my grandfather moved to Nez Perce, Idaho, where my father was born."
So that's clear, then.
Frank Newberry added a literary sighting. "Until I read your article on 'suffonsifying,' I thought it was an original phrase of my father's. Although I could not find it my Oxford dictionary, I used it in my first novel, The Inglenook,and several friends who read the novel have started using the phrase, always giving credit to my dear departed father."
And Robert Burns ( not the 18th-century poet) suggested at least one alternative. "After a family Sunday dinner, my grandfather would ask, 'Have you had a sufficiency?' On our replying, 'Oh yes!,' he would say, 'Good, because I've had a hell of a guts full.' firstname.lastname@example.org