Mooreeffoc

Some interesting thoughts on “mooreeffoc” – a term touched on my Dickens, embraced by Chesterton and elaborated upon by Tolkien. I had come into contact with “mooreeffoc” from my readings of Chesterton, but it’s great to see other people considering such a wonderful idea.

Sierra Highland

Inky Fool

But the greatest, the most exalted, the king of caffeinated words is mooreeffoc. It was invented by Charles Dickens himself, which is a good thing for any word. Here is the word at the moment of its birth in Dickens’ autobiography describing a coffee shop in St Martin’s Lane:

In the door there was an oval glass plate, with COFFEE-ROOM painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backward on the wrong side MOOR-EEFFOC (as I often used to do then, in a dismal reverie,) a shock goes through my blood.

A lesser word than mooreeffoc might have died there in that weakened condition like a Spartan baby. But mooreeffoc was taken in by a kindly shepherd called G.K. Chesterton. In his biography of Dickens Chesterton took up mooreeffoc to mean a vivifying defamiliarisation. As he put it:

That wild word, “Moor Eeffoc,” is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle – the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate object. The date on the door danced over Mr. Grewgious’s, the knocker grinned at Mr. Scrooge, the Roman on the ceiling pointed down at Mr. Tukinghorn, the elderly armchair leered at Tom Smart – these are all moor eeffocish things. A man sees them because he does not look at them.

J.R.R.Tolkein took up the word (or “Chestertonian fantasy” as he called it) in his essay On Fairy Stories, where he defined it as “the queerness of things that have become trite when they are seen suddenly from a new angle”.

The word Mooreeffoc may cause you to realise that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits.

— Inky Fool

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