Author Topic: Potter or Putter  (Read 7878 times)

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scotcat60

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Potter or Putter
« on: November 18, 2012, 09:47:41 AM »
In her introduction to her collection of short stories "The Girl Who Heard Dragons" the writer Anne McCaffrey criticises an interviewer for describing her sister in law as "Pottering abnout in the kitchen" Ms McCaffrey says "Well, Sis has been a potter, but the correct term is putter."(I don't know why she claims this)

My New English Dictionary published 1936 defines potter as someone who makes pots, and to potter or pottering as moving about aimlessly doing small jobs. The only definition of putter is a type of golf club. I myself potter, and it is only recently that I have read the term " puttering" in books from the US. (I'm in the UK)

So, do you potter or putter on your side of the Herring Pond? Ms Mcaffrey lives in Ireland, so what term is used there?

Knitterly

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2012, 10:07:03 AM »
I am in Canada and have only ever heard "puttering" about.

Nibsey

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2012, 10:08:50 AM »

So, do you potter or putter on your side of the Herring Pond? Ms Mcaffrey lives in Ireland, so what term is used there?

I've only heard the term putter in relation to golf clubs. It's always been potter about or footering about in relation to dilly dallying.
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Yvaine

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2012, 10:17:39 AM »
Midwestern US. People "putter" around here but I've seen "pottering" in books.

Thipu1

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2012, 10:31:03 AM »
'Pottering' or 'puttering' about in the kitchen would both be understood here.  However, we'd be more likely to use 'futzing'.  Any of these terms mean doing trivial tasks such as folding dish towels, rearranging the implement jar or sharpening knives that don't really need sharpening. 

It's the sort of nervous thing that people do when company is expected and all the important work is done. 

'Puttering' always reminds me of the sort of noise that a small engine that isn't yet working makes.  A lawn mower putters before it actually starts mowing.  A motorcycle putters before the ride begins. 


Rohanna

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2012, 10:34:50 AM »
I have only heard "putter around".
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Yvaine

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2012, 10:39:08 AM »
'Pottering' or 'puttering' about in the kitchen would both be understood here.  However, we'd be more likely to use 'futzing'.  Any of these terms mean doing trivial tasks such as folding dish towels, rearranging the implement jar or sharpening knives that don't really need sharpening. 

It's the sort of nervous thing that people do when company is expected and all the important work is done. 

'Puttering' always reminds me of the sort of noise that a small engine that isn't yet working makes.  A lawn mower putters before it actually starts mowing.  A motorcycle putters before the ride begins.

Yes, futzing happens here too!  ;D It can be the nervous trivial tasks, or it can be wasting your whole day doing things that really aren't important but make you feel accomplished!

Lynnv

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2012, 10:51:04 AM »
US, Colorado.  I have seen pottering about in books, but have only ever heard puttering (or futzing, as someone else mentioned). 
Lynn

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mechtilde

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2012, 10:53:35 AM »
I've only ever known Brits to potter.
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Luci45

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2012, 10:58:53 AM »
"to busy oneself in a busy or ineffective way" is the second definition of "putter" in Webster's Newworld Dictionary 1985. I'm too lazy to look in my 1962. This was published in the US, and have always lived in the central US.

I'm equally comfortable with both 'putter' and 'potter', among other words for the same sort of activity.
« Last Edit: November 18, 2012, 11:18:18 AM by Luci45 »

WillyNilly

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2012, 12:43:54 PM »
'Pottering' or 'puttering' about in the kitchen would both be understood here.  However, we'd be more likely to use 'futzing'.  Any of these terms mean doing trivial tasks such as folding dish towels, rearranging the implement jar or sharpening knives that don't really need sharpening. 

It's the sort of nervous thing that people do when company is expected and all the important work is done. 

'Puttering' always reminds me of the sort of noise that a small engine that isn't yet working makes.  A lawn mower putters before it actually starts mowing.  A motorcycle putters before the ride begins.

I agree with this, with the slight exception that I'd say "futzing" is busier - more aimless doing, while puttering is more idle.  Futzing about in the kitchen would be as described: doing trivial tasks such as folding dish towels, rearranging the implement jar or sharpening knives that don't really need sharpening.  Whereas puttering about in the kitchen is more like pacing, or rereading the grocery list on the fridge door, or opening cabinets and just looking, etc.  You can "futz" with something "stop futzing with your hair or it will come undone!" "quit futzing with the boxes before they fall", you can't really "putter" with something, its more standing about "please stop puttering by the door and help me put these away".

I have never heard or read "potter" as anything except a person who makes pots, or a "potter's field" which is what we call cemeteries for the homeless, helplessly poor or unclaimed bodies in NYC.  (So named though, after someone who makes pots, as they would traditionally have fields full of holes where they dug out the clay, just like a cemetery gets dug up.)  I would probably figure it out from context though and figure the person meant "putter".

ClaireC79

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2012, 01:24:38 PM »
South Wales here, we tend to 'potch' about in the kitchen etc rather than potter

cabbageweevil

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2012, 01:25:39 PM »
In her introduction to her collection of short stories "The Girl Who Heard Dragons" the writer Anne McCaffrey criticises an interviewer for describing her sister in law as "Pottering abnout in the kitchen" Ms McCaffrey says "Well, Sis has been a potter, but the correct term is putter."(I don't know why she claims this)

My New English Dictionary published 1936 defines potter as someone who makes pots, and to potter or pottering as moving about aimlessly doing small jobs. The only definition of putter is a type of golf club. I myself potter, and it is only recently that I have read the term " puttering" in books from the US. (I'm in the UK)

So, do you potter or putter on your side of the Herring Pond? Ms Mcaffrey lives in Ireland, so what term is used there?

I chime in with fellow-Brit PPs on this thread: overwhelmingly, in Britain it's "potter around," in America, "putter around". "Futz" is strictly American-only, I'd think.

Anne McCaffrey is American by birth, if I'm right -- so in the light of that, she'll be likely to be in the "putter" camp. (I feel that it's a bit precious of her to pontificate about what's "correct", over a colloquialism like this; but her mileage no doubt varies.)

As for what they say in Ireland -- I'm not Irish, and have barely been to the island, so most likely should hold back; but in the memoirs of an Irishman, I once came across "puithernawling", meaning pottering / puttering around; in my view, a splendid word -- maybe taken from Irish Gaelic?

(Nibsey -- sorry, missed your post from the Irish viewpoint !)
« Last Edit: November 18, 2012, 01:27:20 PM by cabbageweevil »

RingTailedLemur

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2012, 01:50:37 PM »
UK here, it's "potter".

(Unless you are messing about before going somewhere, then it's "faff").

Thipu1

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Re: Potter or Putter
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2012, 04:13:28 PM »
If someone is really obsessing about things that don't mean much we say, 'Stop Davening over it'.

'Davening' is a Jewish term.  Many people won't recognize the term but most who have studied hard for a test have 'davened' whether they know it or not.   When you're studying hard you may start to rock slightly back and forth.  That's Davening. 

It's a very precise term for someone who is worrying about tiny little things that no one will notice.