Spiflicate, verb:

1. To confound, to silence, to dumbfound.

2. To treat or handle roughly or severely.

3. To overcome or dispose of by violence; to beat.


This is one of those words. It never dies, but never quite gets up enough momentum to make it into mainstream English. It's not one of those living-dead words (like grimgribber, caconym, and floccinaucinihilipilification) that are kept alive by the rare person who lives on rare words. People really do use spiflicate. It lurks around the fringes, appearing just often enough to get into dictionaries, but not often enough to earn a permanent spot on out tongues.

"Whence the term spifflicated?"
-- Gentleman's Magazine, December 1749

Sometime in the mid-1700s spiflicate appeared, apparently out of thin air. It was London street cant, although we have no way of knowing if it originated in London. The quote given above is the first written appearance of the word, and all it tells us is that a literate Englishman heard the word and did not know what it meant. We can assume that at at this time spiflicated already meant confounded, roughly treated, or beaten.

"He uses Nature's Own Remedy. He gets spiflicated."
-- O. Henry, 1906

A hundred and fifty years later, across the Atlantic Americans started using spiflicated, for no particular reason. But they added a twist; spiflicated meant 'to be intoxicated'. O Henry was the first to use the term in writing, and apparently used it in his personal life as well. It only appeared in one of his stories, Strictly Business, 1918, which was probably not read widely enough to explain the spread of the term. This meaning surely comes from the earlier British use of spiflicate to mean 'to confound'. It is important to note that while 'spiflicated' meant drunk, 'spiflicate' kept its original meaning, and did not mean 'to drink'.

spiflicate /'spiflikeit/; Cách viet khác : (spifflicate)
-- English-Vietnamese Dictionary at http://vdict.com/spiflicate,1.html, 2007

And then, people kept using it. While the sense of 'drunken' fell out of use, it is still used in the original sense. Today spiflicate seems primarily to be a word that people hear their grandparents using. In Australia, Scotland, America, and England, reports pop up; usually "I remember my grandmother using this word when we were kids!" Apparently this has become one of those odd words that grandparents use jokingly with kids -- "If I catch you I'll spiflicate you!"

Spiflicate remains a perfectly cromulent word, albeit an arcane one. It appears in the oddest places, such as the Vietnamese dictionary quoted above. It even appears on Urbandictionary.com, a sign of at least marginal trendiness.

Noded for The Debutante