No sign of this term on Google but it’s been picked up by the Guardian newspaper. It means ‘surfing the net with no purpose’ and is an acronym for ‘What was I looking for?’. A new survey (I think I once swore I’d never start a sentence with that loathsome phrase but I’m transcribing so that’s OK!) has identified this as a national pastime in the UK and asserts that two-thirds of the 33.7 million internet users here admit to the occasional ‘wilf’. (This doubtless means that they surveyed 100 people, of whom 66 admitted wilfing, and then extrapolated to 22 million wilfers. Scientific, innit.)
So there we are. I confess I quite like the term, in spite of being forced to extract it from the dunghill of a ‘survey’.
As one who spent a fair amount of his adolescence (will it ever end?) surfing in the non-digital sense, I can assure you that its purpose is to have fun and so whenever I read someone saying that they’ve been surfing the web, I assume they mean going from link to link with the purpose of having fun. So wilfing and surfing seem rather the same idea to me. Many times I start out with the purpose of paddling up the coast, but end up surfing instead… perhaps that’s wilfing for me. If it’s a new word, I can still push it around like the new kid in school, eh? Is there a word for finding yourself standing in the bedroom and wondering why you went there? I know I came in here for a reason, now what was it?
I definitely follow links in the pursuit of a particular subject such as studying the HPTA (I suspect I need to take one of Dr T’s classes) but I call that research and not surfing.
Sorry for the interruption, please go back to what you were doing.
In addition to not adding much to “surf”, it seems rather close to milf for wilf to catch on in the US, esp. as the w is appropriate as a substitute for the m (speaking of wondering why you’re in the bedroom (^_^)).
I quite like foolscap’s description here—adds a bit of nobility to an otherwise banal acronym. As for the ‘milf’ comparison, I must admit that I too was unfamiliar with this one. Having just looked it up, I’m still cringing. The fact that more new words are spawned today from the realm of the computer world—and at a vastly higher rate than seen for a couple of centuries—means that the lexicon will be a very different thing a couple of decades hence. Further, these words are moving from a specialized world (compuers/internet) into common usage more quickly than was seen during, say, the Industrial Revolution to cite one example. In The New Hacker’s Dictionary, E. Raymond sums up the grammatical structure of cyberspeak thus:
“All nouns can be verbed” and “All verbs can be nouned”. And, I’ll add, acronyms, as with the present example, quickly become words themselves. Wonder what Dr. Johnson’s take on all of this would be.
The fact that more new words are spawned today from the realm of the computer world—and at a vastly higher rate than seen for a couple of centuries—means that the lexicon will be a very different thing a couple of decades hence. Further, these words are moving from a specialized world (compuers/internet) into common usage more quickly than was seen during, say, the Industrial Revolution to cite one example.
I’m not sure this is true. I doubt that words are being coined faster now than in ages past. Slang terms have always been coined at very high rates by various subgroups. It’s just that in this era of instant and mass communication more people see and hear the slang. Will “wilf” be in use five or ten years from now? I seriously doubt it. Like most slang it will disappear. The only reason that it doesn’t remain obscure throughout its entire life is the internet.
And as for specialized words moving into the general vocabulary, this has always been the case. The 1960s was filled with words from the space race. The 1940s was filled with military neologisms. It’s not so much a lexical phenomenon as a cultural one. Whenever a specialized field is catapulted into prominence, it brings a lot of words along with it. These days, it’s computers and the internet.