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Reflections! What kind of stuff is that?

What kind of stuff is that?
By William L. Bulla

Shakespeare said, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."
What kind of stuff is that? Do you have a lot of stuff? I know I do. My attic is stuffed with stuff. It consists of stuff I have accumulated over the years, stuck it in the attic, and forgotten just what stuff is up there. I bet many of you have that same problem.
Some of that stuff may have some sentimental value, some of it may have some monetary value, but I know much of it has absolutely no value. It's just stuff! We seem to overvalue stuff. Many of us have so much stuff but continue to collect it. We can't seem to pass up a yard or garage sale. We stop to look at all that stuff, and then buy some of the stuff and take it home where we store it with all our other stuff. Most of the stuff we accumulate is worthless, because we really don't need it.
We use the word "stuff" in our conversation daily. What is stuff? It is used in so many different ways. What does it mean? It seems to have so many meanings.
Not only is it used, as I did above, as an informal term for personal possessions. It is used in many other ways. It can be an example of senseless, or argumentative, talk where we might say, "Don't give me that stuff!"
In reference to the unspecified qualities required to do, or be something, we have heard the expression, "the stuff heroes are made of."
I have heard people speak about using feathers "to stuff a pillow." At Thanksgiving and Christmas, many homes will "stuff the turkey." This will produce a product that's called "stuffing" which we can eat to "stuff" ourselves at dinner. Or, perhaps, "Stuff our faces" if we ate greedily.
Often the word is used to represent a tangible substance that goes into the make up of a physical object; "Flour is the stuff used to make bread." "Gasoline is the stuff used to power my automobile."
The word can be used to describe putting something into another object; I recently volunteered to help the staff people at a nonprofit organization "stuff envelopes for a mailing." At election time "to stuff a ballot box" means to cast fraudulent votes. To make a "dunk shot" is a term used in basketball to mean "to stuff the ball into the hoop."
In reference to information in an unspecified form one might say, "it was stuff I have heard before"; and "there's good stuff in that book."
Stuff seems to be used in a great number of forms in our language today. The word dates back to the 14th century Middle English, where it denoted literally "stop up a hole with a plug." Over the years, we have added a lot of stuff to that definition. But, perhaps, not only in today's language. I mentioned Shakespeare's use of it at the beginning of this column. He also said. "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff." Years later, we find Benjamin Franklin saying, "Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of." Yes, the word "stuff" has been used in many ways since its beginning. But, I guess the important thing for us is to find happiness with all the stuff in our lives.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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