What does a fidgety flibbertigibbet become with age? Not a fuddy-duddy, for sure. Would we have to fudge it a bit to imagine she might be a fussbudget?
Of course you can be a flibbertigibbet at any age, and a fussbudget too. But I think a young fussbudget is more likely than an old flibbertigibbet.
Well, whatever’s your bag. Some people make a fuss about every bug and widget. Not all fretful sorts are full-fledged fussbudgets, of course, and many a chatterbox is blithe and garrulously agreeable, but there are always the Felix Ungers of the world, fluttering fingers, noodging neighbours, futzing with widgets, fussing over dust and fuses, and budgeting down to pencil stubs.
Not that a fussbudget is someone who fusses over budgets. Budget is an old word with more meanings than just ‘a set plan or limit for spending’. It first hit the language as meaning a purse, bag, pouch, or wallet (typically leather), a sense that hasn’t been seen in use in well over a century; it came from French bouge, ‘leather bag’ or ‘wineskin’, from Latin bulga. And yes, bulga is also the source of bulge. To have a bulging wallet is almost cliché; to have a bulging budget may seem an inane extension of an image, but etymologically it’s tautological.
From that purse or bag, anyway, we got the sense of the money in it, and the limitations thereto; we also got a sense of ‘bundle’. It is more likely that last sense that was intended in the first confection of this word, since it only showed up in the earliest 1900s, around the same time as fuss-box and somewhat before fuss-pot, both of which mean the same thing: a person who is a walking cluster-fuss, so to speak. But fussbudget has had the greatest staying power, perhaps because of the echoing vowels and the muttering ending of budget. To my ears it just seems fussier, for whatever reason.
And what is fuss? Whence comes it? Since its first huffing and snuffling onto the scene in English around 1700, it has had the sense it still has. Its source is uncertain. It may be imitative, metaphorically onomatopoeic or anyway somehow phonaesthetic. It may come from Danish fjas ‘foolery, nonsense’. It seems to show up first in Anglo-Irish writers, but it has no clear connection to Irish Gaelic. I note with pleasure that in older texts with the long s (ſ) it would look like fuſs and, when inflected, like fuſſes, fuſſing, and fuſſed.
But no fuſſbudget, alas; the long s was long gone by the time this word appeared. Pity. That teeny difference – just the right side of the crossbar, projecting like a little sliver in your fingerpad – seems ideally suited, the ſort of fine ſilly offſetting detail that only a fuſſbudget or ſimilar ſuch ſelfſtyled miſfit with an infinite budget for fuſſing with ſtuff would inſiſt on perſiſting with. (Although in truth they would not be ſatisfied with ſatiſfied; the sf combination is an exception.)