Last week in Toronto was tiff week.
By which I do not mean people were getting into lots of small spats. In Toronto everyone knows tiff – or TIFF – is the Toronto International Film Festival. And for a whole week, movies and long lines go together with a force of mutual implication: if there is one of them, there will be the other, and vice versa. To put it another way, there will be a movie if and only if there is a massive line in which people wait for hours. Which means, conversely, there will be a massive line iff there is a movie.
Iff? That’s logic shorthand for if and only if. Obviously when you’re speaking it doesn’t really work; we would have to hold the [f] for much longer to make it clear it was double, and a lot of people still wouldn’t get it, because that’s not the only place where we hold a [f] extra long. (We cannot say “we hear [f:] iff we hear ‘iff’.”) But in print, in books dealing with logic, it’s handy.
You also can’t say you see iff in print iff it means ‘iff’. It shows up in many words – indeed, it has almost a pseudo-morpheme status: it looks like an ending like ing or ed or est, but it’s just the way we write words that end with [ɪf], and those come from all sorts of places – some from Germanic sources, many from French words that end in if that may in turn come from Latin ivus or ifex or similar.
I do like the look of iff. It presents wheat stalks blowing in the wind, or perhaps alfalfa – or feathers and a candle, or even three candles of which two have been blown out. All of these images suggest the susurrus of the sound, with that second-softest of consonants, a bit stiffer than the breath of /h/ but still a mere whiffle as of corduroys shuffling down a hall at night.
Perhaps they suggest a movie too, some offering at the latest tiff. If If was a flick at one time (as it was), why not Iff? Now, what might the plot involve?
Perhaps it is set in Cardiff. A plaintiff, a sheriff, and a bailiff set off after a caitiff. The plaintiff is a bit of a Pecksniff and prone to take a niff (have a fit of pique) when all is not oojah-cum-spiff. The caitiff is a squiff (base fellow) who stiffed the plaintiff on a tariff and left in a jiff – jumped off a cliff and landed in a skiff and just took off. They sniff the goniff out – he’s smoking a spliff with a really spiff lass whose midriff would discomfit a pontiff – but as they’re about to biff him on the quiff they encounter his mastiff, which is as big as a hippogriff. It’s caught a whiff of them and it’s miffed. The ending is a riff on an old cliffhanger, a real standoff: the boat is headed for a reef and the plaintiff, sheriff, and bailiff will survive iff they let the caitiff dive off, leaving them with the mastiff. Sounds terrif, yes?
Hmm. Or maybe a little iffy.