My use of ”furphy’ in the previous post raised all sorts of unexpected questions over at the Dunedin School.
Will whatshisname asked:
A furphy! How marvellous. I’d heard of this beast, but never actually seen one in the wild.
And Eric Repphun requested:
A furphy? Please enlighten those of us who think this is a typo (unless it is, then you can safely ignore us).
So in the interest of clarification of this choice Ozword:
A furphy (pl. furphies) is a false report or rumour, or an absurd story. As an adjective (which can become furphier and furphiest) is means absurdly false and unbelievable, as in ‘that’s the furphiest piece of news I’ve ever heard’.
The usual account of its origins goes as follows:
It comes from the name of [John] Furphy, a blacksmith and general engineer, who went to Shepparton from Kyneton in 1871 and set up a foundry. John Furphy designed a galvanised iron water-cart on wheels and his firm, J. Furphy & Sons, manufactured them. Each cart had the name FURPHY written large on the body. So successful were these carts that during World War 1 the Department of the Army bought many Furphy carts to supply water to camps in Australia and especially to camps in Palestine, and Egypt.
Being a Methodist lay preacher, Furphy would often have engraved on the the cast-iron ends of his carts to carry a variety of moral advertisements, such as:
WATER IS A GIFT OF GOD
BEER AND WHISKY OF THE DEVIL
COME AND HAVE A DRINK OF WATER
The standard account has it that the term furphy arose among Australian soldiers overseas during World War 1. It seems that when soldiers gathered around these water-carts, they became sites for gossip and rumour. Another story has it that the drivers of these water-carts carried gossip and rumour from camp to camp, no doubt making a good story better as they proceeded. Soon enough a connection was established between the name on the cart and the rumour-mongering associated with the cart’s arrival: the furphy was born as soldier slang. Shortly thereafter furphy (also spelled furfy and furphey) left the confines of the camps and became part of the general Australian language.