My new go-to Kindle drunk-dialing author these days is Anthony Powell, whose twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time I cannot over-recommend for those needing to unwind in bed, with or without a drink.  When you finish one volume, you press a button, and there’s a new one right there!  Eleven times!  It’s like the future!  Not to show off, but, the way my memory is going, by the time I get to volume 12 I’ll probably have forgotten what happened in volume 1 anyway, so this could potentially keep me entertained for the rest of my days.

I’m also happy to report that Anthony Powell is improving my vocabulary, as I discovered yesterday when I got an email attachment from my super UK publicist, with the note: “More bumpf from [institution deleted].”

I realized that I knew the meaning of “bumpf,” i.e., pointless paperwork.  But, how did I know?  Was it metempsychosis?  No, it was Anthony Powell.  When I searched for “bumpf” (bumf, bumph) on the Kindle, I got like 14 hits, including this one from Volume 10 (Books Do Furnish a Room):

“I had quite enough of shuffling the bumf round when I was in the army. As a result I’ve developed a positive mania these days against pushing paper.”

As you can see, Powell is really good at conveying the meaning of a potentially unfamiliar word through context clues.  In this way, you can enrich your personal lexicon even when you are drunk and half-asleep.

In honor of my rapidly impending trip to the United Kingdom, I decided to look up bumf in a dictionary.  It turns out to be a contraction for “bum fodder,” originally used to designate toilet paper. Interestingly, the word seems to have retained its literal meaning primarily in China.


See also here.

Sorry to British readers, who knew all about bumf already!

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10 Responses to “BUMF”

  1. meg Says:

    J’dore-dore-dore the DMT series! I first read it one summer in Oxford, lying on my tiny bed in Balliol’s graduate student housing (built 1380, refurbished 1529). And I started rereading it a few months ago, when U Chicago Press gave vol. 1 away as their free e-book of the month.

    Shame on your UK publicist for misspelling “bumf.” I’m rather taken aback to learn that even the poms have forgotten its boggy origins.

  2. Elif Says:

    yeah, that’s how i got hooked, they gave away vol 1 for free on kindle. it’s like heroin! but according to msn encarta, my uk publicist does not deserve any shame.

  3. Lydia Says:

    Widmerpool! How I adore Widmerpool. And Stringham.

  4. Tom Says:

    As one of the 7 oldest readers of your blog, and also, I thought, one of the 7 youngest readers of Powell, I’m just smiling that you enjoy him. Check out Hilary Spurling’s Invitation to the Dance. I don’t know how Powell put his biography of a generation together without it.

  5. Zach Says:

    I’m watching the 1997 Channel 4 miniseries adaptation as we speak, although it’s criminally short at 8 hours to cover all 12 novels. You should check it out when you’re through them (preferably when tipsy), or when you need a reminder of what happened in the first couple of books! (

  6. Michael J MacMahon Says:

    Re your ” new go-to Kindle drunk-dialing author.”

    This is spooky!

    Your interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Start The week” piqued my interest, so I found your blog and this wonderful piece. Only a few minutes earlier, I had been explaining to a guest the joys of kindling and I’d said “although it’s really easy to buy stuff, Amazon have allowed for the fact that you might have hit ‘buy’ in error, either through fat-finger syndrome or being drunk or both, and they ask it you’ve bought by mistake.” Then your blog post.

    Your site is now safely in my RSS¬reader.

    Meanwhile, I wish you a wonderful stay in the UK!



  7. Levi Stahl Says:

    I second Zach’s recommendation of the BBC adaptation. It’s far from perfect, but the casting alone is so good as to almost make up for any flaws. Stringham, Templer, Quiggin, and Mona all come to mind as being just perfect.

    The searchability of the e-books is easily my favorite thing about them. (I should confess: I’m the publicist for the books, and Elif, your drunk-dialing Kindle-buying is all my fault because the giveaway was my idea–but they also happen to be my favorite books, period.) I’m perpetually re-reading and referring to Dance, and while Spurling’s Invitation to the Dance is indispensable, being able to search for exactly the phrase or scene I’ve vaguely been thinking about is incredibly helpful.

    So glad you’re enjoying them!

  8. Allan Connery Says:

    Glad to see Powell’s masterpiece has made it to e-books. But where is Volume 2, A Buyer’s Market? I can’t find an e-book version on Amazon in either the U.S.A or the U.K.

  9. Sarah Says:

    I have to admit I constantly forget what happens, which always makes rereading them a pleasure. You should also track down Simon Raven’s Arms to Oblivion series, which is set in the post Second World War period. They’re less well-written but huge amounts of fun, bawdy, occasionally crude and very acerbic about just about everything. ps I loved the piece in today’s Guardian, it led me to your site.

  10. Levi Stahl Says:

    I don’t know why you couldn’t find A Buyer’s Market on Amazon US; it should be there, and it seems to be there now:

    It’s also available through pretty much any other e-book outlet in the States, but I don’t believe there are UK editions on the market from anyone.

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