I just ran across a fine old slang word, spifflicate or spiflicate—the former spelling is preferred by the New Oxford American Dictionary, which defines it as ‘treat roughly or severely; destroy,’ the latter by the OED, which defines it more elaborately: “To deal with in such a way as to confound or overcome completely; to treat or handle roughly or severely; to crush, destroy.” Some OED citations:
1796 New Brighton Guide 39 Come, spiflicate that scoundrel Care, Gruel him, bruise him, never fear.
1818 MOORE Fudge Fam. Paris ix. 223 Alas, alas, our ruin’s fated; All done up, and spiflicated!
1842 BARHAM Ingol. Leg. Ser. II. Babes in Wood xi, So out with your whinger at once, and scrag Jane, while I spiflicate Johnny!
1873 Brit. Q. Rev. LVII. 276 The way in which the learned, racy old Hector smashes and spiflicates scientific idiots.. is delicious.
The participle occurs in this bit of dialogue, which I shall have to remember for future use:
1891 MEREDITH One of our Conquerors x, You’ve got a spiflicating style of talk about you.
The etymology? It’s a “fanciful formation.”


  1. I initially read it as “splifficate”. That would be a useful word, to roll something up to smoke it.

  2. Can one spiflicate something into smithereens?
    Can one intransitively spiflicate?

  3. In my family, spifflicate was a jokey synonym for tickling — “I’ll spifflicate you”.

  4. John Emerson says

    The word sounds very Mark Twain-ish.

  5. I was sure that Wodehouse had used the word differently, to mean drunken – “he was spifflicated” – but I can’t remember where. But that’s how I’d have defined it, before your entry.

  6. Yes, the past participle can be used as a synonym for ‘drunk’ (cf. smashed).

  7. Oh, so that’s what my movers did to me past Monday…and is it a coincidence that the word is so close to spit?

  8. the Splifficator is also a cocktail made from rye whiskey and soda water, dating back to 1865. happens to be one of my favorites.

  9. along with piffle

  10. Yes, for our family it also meant a playful but very firm and extensive tickling.
    What you would do to small child by holding them down and tickling them till they scream with giggles….but if you do it for a second too long the giggles turn to tears.
    mainly used in threat:
    “Watch out or I will spiflicate you”

  11. Peter Wimsey in Have His Carcase: “But don’t you see that it simply busts up and spiflicates the medical evidence?”

  12. Sylvia dead drunk, paralyzed, spifflicated, iced to the eyebrows,” I said harshly. — The Long Goodbye.

  13. Excellent find!

  14. I just used the word to my dog who tried to get through the automatic door without an inch to spare! The front half was outside, the back half, inside. “You nearly got spifflicated!!” Thankfully the door sensed she was there and opened again so no harm done! However it made me wonder where the word came from so I did a search for it. “It was a serious threat as well as a fun one in our household. When mum comes home to find the kitchen a mess cause you’ve tried cooking in absence “I’ll spifflicate you!” She yelled!

  15. January First-of-May says

    I wonder if there’s any relation to Spaceman Spiff. It certainly sounds like the kind of word he’d use (even aside from starting with his name).

Speak Your Mind