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What are they on about?

David Newnham gets well and truly stuffed

Is it me, or is the world full of stuff? Not just full, but full to bursting. Stuffed.

OK, so there has always been a certain amount of stuff around. People knew their stuff and they did their stuff. They stuffed dead animals and cushions - even their own faces - and they giggled when someone asked grandma if she fancied stuffing.

From guns to cloth to medicine to cash, stuff has been everything in its time. Any unnamed matter that could be used to make other things was stuff. Anything that might be crammed into a hole was stuff. Oo-er missus. Yes, there's always been a rumpy-pumpy side to stuff, associated as it is with birds and upholstery. Nothing too strong, of course.

But one day in the 1980s the world looked afresh at this mild little word and took it to its post-modern heart. What was going to replace the old certainties - society, history, the Cold War and job security? Stuff, obviously. It was vague. It was slightly rude. It was, without question, the right stuff. Today, there are 16 million websites on the internet that strut their stuff on their title page. You want free stuff? Absolutely free stuff? Totally free stuff? Just download it (and watch Stuffit Expander decompress the file).

There's jazz stuff and folk stuff, car stuff and cat stuff. And for kids, of course, there's tons of fun stuff. You want serious stuff? Try "Paleoindian amp; Other Archaeological Stuff", or look up "Fun stuff for the Latin classroom".

There is "bizarre stuff you can make in your kitchen" and "A to Z Teacher Stuff" for "Quick Lesson Ideas!" Learn "HowStuffWorks" or browse Stuff magazine ("Fast cars, great-looking girls, wild stories, easy moneyI") Weird stuff, strange stuff, hot stuff, stuff and nonsenseI one site covers "Vikings and stuff" while another concentrates on "Dykes, Disability and Stuff". If it's "environmental solutions" you're after, try "Use Less Stuff".

Stuff is growing at such a rate that it's spilling out of the English-speaking world into the surrounding countryside. The University of Linkopings near Stockholm has gone to great pains to call its website StuFF, which stands for Studentkaren vid Filosofiska Fakulteten. It's true, then. Even in Sweden, stuff happens.

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