Pith, Path and Poof

Anyone growing up in Seventies Britain will remember that the word ‘poof’ was the insult of choice for red-blooded males in their crotch-hugging loon pants, polyester tank tops, bouffant hairdos and BO. The abuse was often accompanied by a teapot impersonation. Oh, how I laughed. These days the word seems quaintly old-fashioned and has been (almost) consigned to history along with flock wallpaper, velour three-piece suites, fondue sets, beige teasmades with corn motifs and the curly perm.

Poof

I’ve often wondered about the origin of the word. A quick Google reveals a variety of explanations from a suitably camp French headdress to some fanciful tale about the sound of a fart; neither of which rings true to me. Now I think I’ve cracked it. Liam and I were watching ‘The Secrets of the Castle,’ a BBC show about the construction of a medieval fortress employing the building techniques of the day (I know, I know, we ought to get out more). One of the many absorbing details uncovered by the experimental archaeology was the old grading of sandstone into hard (pith), medium (path) and soft (poof). There you have it. Shirt lifters have always been considered a bit soft, never quite man enough to make the grade, butch-wise. Not that this was the case with Billy Moss, a prison officer I once dallied with in the Nineties. One warm summer’s evening we were enjoying a pint outside the Colherne Pub in West London, the grand-daddy of gay bars back in the day. As we supped, a delivery van passed by, stopping at a red light. The tattooed driver shouted over something rather unpleasant. Billy handed me his pint, swaggered over, squared up to the driver and said,

‘Come on then, mate. You want some? And after you can tell yer wife you got beaten up by a big poof.’

While I don’t condone the threat of violence, I must confess that the look of fear on the white van man’s face was a real treat as he hit the gas to make a quick getaway. I wonder where Billy is now?