The Discouraging Word today has an entry about the lexical item “defugalty.” Not only am I unfamiliar with it, so are all my dictionaries, and yet it exists—barely. Google turns up half a dozen examples, all of them using it as if it were a pre-existing word, not something that needs to be defined. Here are the contexts:

1. “As I was reading Mr. Norr’s article about the situation here at JSC, I noticed an interesting defugalty. Mr. Garman pointed out that the difference between platforms was only a few hundred dollars. I noticed he forgot that this was a ‘per platform’ cost.”
2. “I must be one of those complaining nitpicky, whining people who go to any length to imagine or try to trump up some ailment or defugalty. Chicken Little syndrome.”
3. “The pork checkoff defugalty had both winners and losers. Opponents wanted an end to the checkoff, but USDA says it will continue.”
4. “But, to his surprise, he found two white families, by the names of Fulbright and Campbell, already there and arguing over possession of the spring…. Springfield History records the defugalty between Fulbright and Campbell but omits mention of Samuel Martin in connection with the spring.”
5. “I went on the school board in 1929. I didn’t file for the election. Someone else put my name in;I think it was either Van Buren or Westhoff. Mrs. Sando and Mrs. Ravenscraft were both on the boardand were fighting…. It seems there was always some sort of ‘defugalty.'”
6. “Again…I am truly sorry you’re having this luck. I am here! While I was out (Okla.) I called the office every day and spoke to everyone there. Maybe you’re dialing the wrong extensions. Mine won’t work when I’m not there…. Sorry about the defugalty…but I received and aswered 50+ phone calls and 350 e-mails in the past 5-6 days.”

I think we can dismiss out of hand the speculation by TDW’s correspondent that the word (if we can call it a word) is derived from “fugue.” My Sprachgefühl tells me it’s a deformation of “difficulty”; compare the substitution of “definootly” for “definitely” (HDAS, Vol. I, p. 576). But we need data, citations, research! Anybody have any?


  1. I haven’t gone into the dialect sources yet (and if this is a neologism, it’s unlikely to find such I think), but Lexis-Nexis shows no results that I can find. I suspect, perhaps, that this might not be the most common spelling?

  2. Every Discipline has “Rubbish/Garbage” ’tis like weeds they are thrown to the winds of opinion and will die if they cannot take root. That is they survive if they have a valid reason for being: Just another thought.

  3. cutting edge, as it were.
    under Patriot Act III, all Bushism will become
    not only possible but required in American
    (henceforth “the King’s English”); & this is
    assuredly such a word. the only defugalty i can
    see in its propagation, is competition from the
    other spelling Dubya uses, “difucutli”.
    yrs in linguistic degradation,

  4. When I read Tomoko’s post to your entry on her “how to bow” movie, I was a bit confused by her use of “quatation” and found that it’s actually quite a common word, whatever it is.
    (In case my links don’t work (again) here are the URLs: )

  5. It seems to be simply a misspelling of “quotation,” which makes sense in those Google hits. I presumed Tomoko was apologizing for using too many quotes in her essay.
    Thanks for the URLs, by the way; once again, my comments section has stripped your link code. Does anybody know what the problem might be?

  6. In case it helps- the same thing has recently occured to me at .
    Incidentally, I realize that I never answered your question about Egyptian > Coptic there. I plan on posting something about that in my journal soon.

  7. Great — please let me know when you do!

  8. I have used the term defugalty all of my life; I picked it up from my mother’s use of it; and our
    understanding of its meaning has been : a great difficulty, a great problem. She is in her
    late 70’s, raised in Kansas; I have spent my life in Ohio.

  9. Thanks, Susan!

  10. Chris Parker says

    I’m in the law business in Utah and have encountered the word dee-fyoog-ul-tee. Alas, none of the word’s users have ever known how to spell it or have any answers to why I can’t find it in any dictionaries. I’ve tried all the spellings I can think of, including roots like fugel, feudal, foucault (I’m really stretching), etc. My conclusion has been, like that of the author above, that it is merely a bastardization of difficulty. At least two judges, one bank executive, and one lawyer have used it or agreed that it was a word. Perhaps Webster can declare it so! A search on google for “defugelty” turns up a reference in a Sun Valley, Idaho news story. I’ve got an email in to a linguistics professor right now and am hoping for more information or guidance.

  11. Hi, Chris! Thanks for the further info on users; I think we can definitely call it a word. Please leave a comment when you get an answer back from the linguist.

  12. I heard this word[defugalty] from my mother,who was of direct Irish decent,many times as a lad and I use it to this day.People laugh and chastise me so I traced the word and found reference to “defugalty” in ancient Gaelic writings.

  13. The 3 Stooges were particular fond of this word, but it aint Yiddish…

  14. familiar to me as well. I grew up on the Great Plains of the US, so perhaps it’s more midwestern than New England? never saw it written before. it’s an aural word.

  15. meant to say that it’s just a goofy pronunciation of difficulty. people having fun with the spoken word…

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  17. One nice thing about all this spam is seeing posts I’d missed before. Like this one. But the problem remains unsolved. Intriguing!

  18. John M. Reynolds says

    In writing a report I decided to check on the exact spelling of this “word”. I have used it for years. I think I first heard it from a co-worker in about 1965 in California. But I am not absolutely sure. He was 65 years old at the time and was a retired farmer from the Great Lakes region. If it was him, he used other words that amused me such as “County-gaglin” for a fence that was crooked, winding here and there over the landscape, and “all skree-wah” for something that was crooked or scattered. “Kitty-wumpus” was another word both he and my father (born in Utah in 1916) used a lot, meaning something that was not lined up properly, not unlike skree-wah, but with different overtones. The way I heard the word “defugelty” used was not exactly as a synonym for difficulty; it implied some degree of conflict or disagreement as well, but not to the level of all out combat.

  19. Ken Pywell says

    My Dad used this word yesterday. I had to ask him to pronounce it again, thinking I had heard it wrong. He used it as we drove past an accident, referring to all the “damage and defrugalty.” He said his brother used the word all the time. His brother would around 85 now.
    So, possibly to describe some type of destruction or the resulting traffic mess…problem…?

  20. I just found the plural form spelled as “difugalties” in the book PORTRAITS OF TEMPERAMENT, by David Keirsey (3rd ed., 1995), ISBN 0960695419. According to one reviewer on Amazon, the book seems to specialize in arcane word forms (see the review titled “Portraits of Frustration” at
    In this context, it seems to mean “worry” or “concern,” again, a derivation of “difficulty.”

  21. My friend LeeAnn just used that word in a conversation tonight. I questioned her and she said it was a word from her mom. Email her at

  22. Paul Brendtro says

    I used this word in an email I constructed to a friend today. My wife, who considers herself to be something of a wordsmith, told me it wasn’t a word. A quick check of the dictionary appeared confirmed her beliefs, but, true to my midwestern roots, I continue to disagree. My South Dakota father, who came of age in the Great Depression, used this word to describe conflict between entities. Per that definition, I believe there appears to be some defugelty between my wife and I on this issue.

  23. Tell her it’s a word, it’s just not a dictionary word.

  24. I first heard the word used by 50-year old carpenters working in Connecticut. (I don’t know where they grew up. They DID seem a bit midwestern…) They used it to indicate when the plans drawn by the architect led to some unforeseen mismatch or goofy looking detail. 2-d plans often lead to such circumstances that just can’t be predicted until it is getting built. *THAT* is a defugalty.
    My dad liked the word so much he uses it all the time now. I use it with other engineers and they look at me funny.

  25. jamessutton says

    I remember my father using the word defugalty since I was a small child. I was born in 1953, my father was born in 1913, in eastern Kentucky. He used the word as if it were real but always in the context of humorous criticism. He attributed it to the “Pennsylvania Dutch”. But he attributed a lot of peculiar stuff to the Pennsylvania Dutch. In any case, I am sure he grew up with the word or, at the very latest, came to know it in the Army, during WWII. I have used it all my life.

  26. If in 2003 Google was only able to find six examples of this word, a decade and a bit later it finds almost 10,000.

  27. Yeah, that’s quite a change.

  28. Bruce Hietala says

    I sent the word DEFUGALTY to the Urban Dictionary because I couldn’t find it online anywhere. My wife’s Finnish grandmother used it frequently, and three generations of her descendants still use it. I have assumed her grandmother’s immigrant parents used it, probably due to a mispronunciation of the word difficulty. This makes sense because Finns pronounce the letter i as a hard e. They came from Minnesota and North Dakota and the word came to mean a serious problem, often involving some sort of conflict. So that’s five generations. I think the word belongs in Websters.

  29. Aldon Vay says

    It was used by several people at my work place 1970-74 for a mistake or problem

  30. I am 68 tomorrow. I grew up with it from my Mom who would be nearly 94 now.
    We are born Oregonians, Family newly arrived from Minnesota when Mom was born.

  31. Thanks for adding your experience!

  32. Showing my own even more extreme age, I think I remember Studs Lonigan’s father explaining to Studs that his mother is going through female defugalties. That’s Chicago Irish, written in the 1930s.

  33. Wiktionary now has it, but with a dubious definition and no etymology (unless you count “See also fugal” as some sort of hint). Google turns up this brief exchange from the Deseret News of Nov. 13, 1994:

    Sir: Is there such a word as “defugalty”? I have heard it used by older people. Example: “The defugalty was all the people talking at once.”

    – Judy H.

    Answer: Oh, that. Yes, it’s a word, but not the kind you’d find in a self-respecting dictionary. It’s a jocular expression used by the old folks who’re trying to be – well, jocular. Try “difficulty.” Ain’t it a scream?

    And A Way with Words covered it in 2015 (“It’s just a goofy play on difficulty, one that’s popular with grandparents”).

    Not in Green’s, though.

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