Intermediate+ Word of the Day: puff

puff (noun, verb) /pʌf/ LISTEN

Cream puffs are delicious.

A puff is a short blast of air or smoke, as well as the sound made when giving off a puff, and the act of inhaling and exhaling on a cigarette or pipe. It is also a ball of choux pastry (as pictured above) baked and filled with something sweet, often whipped cream and jam. Figuratively, a puff is a flattering review. To puff means ‘to blow with a short blast,’ as wind sometimes does, ‘to give or let out in a puff,’ and ‘to move with a puff.’ To puff is also ‘to become swollen or inflated’ and ‘to make fluffy.’

Example sentences

  • A puff of wind blew the papers off the table.
  • A single puff of smoke came out of the chimney.
  • Can I have a puff on your cigarette?
  • We had coffee and cream puffs.
  • Winston was puffing on his cigar.
  • The steam train puffed into the station.
  • The bird puffed up its feathers.
  • Jim puffed the cushions on the couch.

Words often used with puff

out of puff: out of breath, mostly UK. Example: “Karen hadn’t been for a run for a long time and she was out of puff by the time she got to the end of her road.” This expression can also be used figuratively to mean that something is losing momentum. Example: “The project started well, but now it seems to be running out of puff.”

puff pastry: a type of pastry where much of the butter is incorporated through a long process of folding and rolling, with the pastry frequently being returned to the fridge to chill, so that when it is cooked, it puffs up and becomes crisp, light, and airy.

powder puff: a pad for applying powder to your skin, especially face powder.

In pop culture

The Powerpuff Girls is an American animated TV series that ran from 1998 to 2005 and was rebooted (that means they made a new version and started running it again) in 2016. You can see the theme from the series here:

Puff the Magic Dragon is a 1963 song by the group Peter, Paul, and Mary. You can see them performing it live in 1965 here:

Additional information

Just as a puff is a flattering review, a puff piece in the news or in a newspaper is an article or segment that is upbeat and optimistic, usually about an unimportant “feel-good” subject, like a cat helping a puppy climb up a riverbank. And some of you may remember the word puff from last week, as it’s one of many hairstyles worn with natural kinky hair.

Did you know?

A puff sleeve is a sleeve that is gathered at the top and the cuff, but full in the middle.

Other forms

puffingly (adverb)

Origin

Puff dates back to the late 12th century, when the Middle English verb puffen meant ‘to blow with your mouth.’ Its origin is imitative, meaning that the word comes from the sound the action makes. It is, however, related to the Middle Dutch puffen, and the Low German pof or puf, so some speculate that there may have been a common origin that is now lost, and the word (both the verb and noun forms) may be older than we think. The meaning expanded to ‘pant’ and ‘breathe fast or hard’ in the late 14th century, and has been used to describe swellings and protuberances since the mid-16th century. The transitive figurative meaning (to exalt) also dates back to the mid-16th century, and this sense grew to include ‘praise in self-interest’ in the early 19th century. The noun comes from the verb, when the Middle English puf or puffe originally meant ‘the act of puffing’ or ‘a short blast.’ It has been used as a name for a type of light, airy pastry since the 14th century, and figuratively to mean ‘flattery or praise’ since the mid-18th century.

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