Mufti and shufti

two instances of British military slang + four unrelated romance novels

MUFTI, n. Last week this word showed up in both Moby-Dick and Slippery Creatures, KJ Charles’s romantic thriller set in 1920s London.

But granting all this; yet, regarded discreetly and coolly, seems it not but a mad idea, this; that in the broad boundless ocean, one solitary whale, even if encountered, should be thought capable of individual recognition from his hunter, even as a white-bearded Mufti in the thronged thoroughfares of Constantinople? (Moby-Dick, chapter 52)

Brass, was his instant thought. They wore suits and carried umbrellas, but he could tell brass when he saw it, even in mufti. (Slippery Creatures, location 152 of 3548)

“Mufti” is Arabic for “judge.” It’s a word for a Muslim legal scholar, which is clearly the usage that Melville intends. (Not sure how accurate Melville is, re: frequency of Mufti sightings in Constantinople, and either way the passage is racist “they all look the same to me” garbage. For the record: yikes.)

Since the early 19th century, the British military has been using “mufti” as slang for civilian dress, probably because off-duty officers used to wear dressing gowns that looked sort of like the robes worn by the Islamic scholars. This usage of “mufti” probably comes to English through Urdu (and probably from Persian or Arabic before that).

“Mufti” is not the only instance of British military slang coming from Arabic that showed up in Slippery Creatures. There was also the sentence “Will stopped in the doorway to have a shufti at him,” where “shufti” comes from the Egyptian Arabic for “have you seen?” It became British slang for “a look around.”

Given that the British military was brutally colonizing and exploiting the entire world for such a long time, it’s not surprising that their slang comes from all over. Violent conquest comes up again and again in this newsletter because it results in a lot of new words. It’s one of the major forces shaping human history, so naturally the way we speak reflects that, even if we don’t always know it.

On a less grim note, I read so many good small-r romance novels this week!

Getting Schooled (m/f, both cis and het, contemporary) by Christina C. Jones. This is a masterclass in banter. Reese and Jason really do have electricity between them—and they both get shocked. She’s mean to him and he loves it and I loved it too. The way these two characters handle their conflict together was also really well done. And their parents are adorable. A total joy to read. Content warnings: grief, parental death in a car accident, infidelity (not between the main couple).

Appassionata (m/f, both cis and het, contemporary, novella) by Emma Barry in the anthology He’s Come Undone. This novella, about a classical pianist working through her stage fright and the uptight piano technician trying to help her, is really tender and beautiful. Kristy, the pianist, has been playing the role of a “diva” for so long that she doesn’t really know who she is without her career. Her devastating self-doubt really resonated with me, as did the way she coped with it—by playing for herself. Content warnings: a character with anxiety and panic attacks.

House Rules (m/f, both cis and het, contemporary) by Ruby Lang. This novel is also about music, sorta! It’s mostly a second-chance romance about exes getting back together after 17 years apart, and it’s so sweet. It braids together moments of heartache and humor, and there is a startling, lovely sentence where Simon appreciates Lana’s knee that I cannot quote to you because the library already took this book back, but it was such a perfect encapsulation of what it feels like to love someone—not only that you feel tenderly toward every little part of them, even the bony, underappreciated ones, but that you see the whole expressed in the parts, and you want them both more for it. Content warnings: divorce, endometriosis, infertility.

Bloodline (gay m/bi m, both cis, fantasy, historical) by Jordan L. Hawk. This is part of the Whyborne & Griffin series, which I have discussed twice before, and it’s a ton of fun. Like Lovecraft, but not racist. Plus it stars an anxious gay linguist so it’s #relatable. I still haven’t learned to channel any ancient magics through language, but I’ll keeping working on it. I called the twist in this book early on and the dramatic irony nearly killed me, but I’m so glad I made it through because the ending was everything I wanted, and I’m told the rest of the series has Griffin’s point of view, and I can’t wait for that. Content warnings: murder, violence, gore, homophobia, abuse (in the past).

I was gonna look up images to put in this newsletter, but my novel draft is still not done. This is how I am about every single thing in my life right now. I was gonna make that recipe, but my novel draft is still not done. I was gonna detangle my hair, but my novel draft is still not done.

All I want is to finish it, and realistically it won’t be done for at least 10,000 words (really realistically, 20,000 words, but I don’t want to talk about that). And this isn’t even addressing the question of whether it’s good! Just whether it’s done. Right now it’s neither.

Things will likely be the same next week, but let’s pretend they won’t! Enjoy your Sunday, and see you then!