A stuffy or foolishly
If any term sounds old and English, it must be this one. However, as so often, intuition is found to be wanting, as fuddy-duddy appears to be of American origin, possibly via Scotland, nor is it especially old. The first record that I can find of it is from the Texas newspaper The Galveston Daily News, 1889:
That usage - without any accompanying explanation - seems to suggest that the readership would have been expected to have been familiar with it. That is quite possible, there are several citations in American newspapers from the end of the 19th century that relate to a pair of fictional wags called Fuddy and Duddy. A string of their
"Look here; I'm Smith - Hamilton Smith. I'm a minister and I try to do about right ... I object to
being represented as an old fuddy-duddy."
rather weak gags was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript. Here's
an example from a November 1895 edition:
Fuddy: So Miss Dandervecken Whether or not the expression
is going to marry an Englishman. A lord, I suppose?
Duddy: Well, no, not exactly: but I understand that he's often as drunk as one.
'fuddy-duddy' was already known and the names were taken from it, or whether it was the other way round, we can't now tell. The coincidence in the dates of the arrival of the two characters and the phrase does suggest that there was a connection of some kind.
Duddy was a Scottish term
meaning ragged - duds having been used to refer to rough tattered clothes since the 15th century. Fud, or fuddy, was a Scots dialect term for buttocks. In 1833, the Scots poet James Ballantyne wrote The Wee Raggit Laddie:
Wee stuffy, stumpy, dumpie The full-on Scots dialect in that sentimental, Burns influenced rhyme is difficult to translate precisely. The gist of the meaning is:
Thou urchin elfin, bare an' duddy,
Thy plumpit kite an' cheek
Are fairly baggit,
Although the breekums on thy fuddy
e'en right raggit.
Poor scruffy little lad, bare There is a British term -
and ragged, your wet belly and red cheeks are swollen and the trousers on your
buttocks are torn.
'duddy fuddiel', which is also recorded from around the same date. William
Dickinson's A glossary of words and phrases pertaining to the dialect of
Cumberland, 1899, has:
"Duddy fuddiel, a ragged There may be a link between
'duddy fuddiel' and 'fuddy-duddy' but, as they don't mean exactly the same
thing, we can't be certain.
One thing we can be sure about; that the cartoon character Elmer Fudd inherited the name from the phrase. 'Fuddy-duddy' was in general circulation in the US well before the character was created in around 1940 and the expression accords with his old-fashioned and obsessive temperament.
In a rather sad sequel to the Boston Transcript's role in the coining of 'fuddy-duddy', Time magazine reported in 1939 that a survey commissioned by the paper found that, "the most frequent word used by advertisers to describe the paper was fuddy-duddy". The Transcript
ceased trading soon afterwards.