WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Bumfiddle

One might be tempted to raise an eyebrow at the low-brow sound of this week’s compound word when examining it from a vulgar Regency perspective, so proceed with care, gentle reader. Deep diving into Google reveals many carnal connections to each word separately, so this post is definitely not safe for work, subway rides home, or drinking coffee at Starbucks.


The backside, the breech. See ars musica.

Okely-dokely. Except the definition for ars musica is – you guessed it – bumfiddle. No help there; let’s parse.

The Online Etymological Dictionary cites the other, venerable OED when defining bum as “buttocks,” from the late 14th century, “probably onomatopœic, to be compared with other words of similar sound and with the general sense of ‘protuberance, swelling.”

The word fiddle is where we stir up the good stuff this week. It means everything from the literal “stringed musical instrument, violin” (the Online Etymological Dictionary again),  to “a device (such as a slat, rack, or light railing) to keep objects from sliding off a table aboard ship” (from Merriam-Webster), and to a “swindle, fraud” (according to

Those seem fairly tame.

But considering that the vulgar tongue is, well, vulgar, methinks the true definition for this week’s word is less literal and more bawdy. Cue a perusal of A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespeare and Stuart Literature. A used copy will run you about $2200, so I recommend a stroll through the digital world of Google Books instead, where you will learn that “fiddle” always and only means vagina. Except when it means penis.

Time to consult the artistic oracle: James Gillray. Mayhap he has an illuminating illustration.

Ars-musica by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 16 February 1800, National Portrait Gallery.

A woman plays rather inelegantly at the piano while the cellist on her left seems highly perturbed and the violinist on her right is so incensed he’s stopped playing altogether. How is this ars musica also bumfiddling? Her music is so bad it’s as if she’s playing from her bum? Or is her posterior passing wind that sounds like a musical instrument, displeasing in both sound and smell, hence the faces of displeasure?

Your guess is as good as mine. I’m officially stumped by a Word of the Week.