Word Confusion: Serf versus Surf

Posted November 15, 2018 by kddidit in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I was actually hunting for an image to use for “Villain versus Villein (I’d typed in serf) and found all sorts of images of people surfing. No. Just no. Obviously, ahem, “someone” needs to learn the difference between serf and surf.

Oh, I suppose you could say that a passionate surfer is bound to his board, but it still isn’t the same.

Oh, egads, I just had a thought… What if a restaurant advertised “serf’n’turf”??? The Donner Party might go for it, but not me!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Serf Surf
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: serf

A black and white sketch showing the progression from bond slave to serf to wage slave

Image from page 17 of The Up-to-date Primer: A First Book of Lessons for Little Political Rconomists; in Words of One Syllable with Pictures, 1896, courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images has no known copyright restrictions, via VisualHunt.

Man surfing on a pale yellow-green sea

Pt Cartwight by texaus1 is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via VisualHunt.

Everybody’s…er, someone is surfing now…

Part of Grammar:
Plural: serfs
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun: surf
Third person present verb: surfs
Past tense or past participle: surfed
Gerund or present participle: surfing

A person in a condition of servitude, required to render services to a lord, commonly attached to the lord’s land and transferred with it from one owner to another Noun:
The mass or line of foam formed by waves breaking on a seashore, shoals, or reef

  • [In singular] A spell of surfing

Verb, intransitive:
Stand or lie on a surfboard and ride on a wave toward the shore

  • [Informal] Ride on the roof or outside of a fast-moving vehicle, typically a train, for excitement
  • Short for channel-surf

Verb, transitive:
Stand or lie on a surfboard and ride on a wave toward the shore

  • Ride (a wave) toward the shore on a surfboard
  • Move from site to site on (the Internet)
His lordship intends to sell his manse in the north, and those serfs bound to it will pass to the new owner.

The widest gulf separated lord from serf.

“What care I,” cried the bishop, “he is but a serf.”

“I give not the pip of an apple for king or for noble,” cried the serf passionately.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company

Yes; but if he had not been discontented, he would have been a serf still!

The difference between a serf and a slave is the serf is bound to a plot of land whereas the slave may be sold willy nilly.

I love listening to the roar of the surf.

John? He went for an early surf.

We’re heading out to Hawaii to surf.

Verb, intransitive:
Janey wants to learn to surf.

He fell to his death while surfing on a 70 mph train.

Verb, transitive:
He has built a career out of surfing big waves.

We surfed every big wave in sight.

She’ll drive me to bankruptcy the way she surfs those shopping channels!

I give up on that boy. All he does is surf the Internet.

Noun: serfage, serfdom, serfhood Adjective: surf-like, surfable, surfy
Noun: surf’n’turf, surfboard, surfer, surfing
History of the Word:
Late 15th century in the sense of slave, is from the Old French, from the Latin servus meaning slave. Late 17th century, apparently from the obsolete suff, which is of unknown origin, perhaps influenced by the spelling of surge.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

Satisfy your curiosity about other Word Confusions by exploring the index. You may also want to explore Formatting Tips, Grammar Explanations, and/or the Properly Punctuated.

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Commonwealth Beachley Classic (Courtney Conlogue) by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer was cropped, resized, reversed, and made transparent; it is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license. Surfer was cropped and is under the CC0 1.0 license. Both are via VisualHunt.

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