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In the Firefly series Joss Whedon often used linguistic devices such as Mandarin Chinese signs, curses, and other assorted phrases to indicate a removal in time and space.

To further this, he also introduced the usage of some words in English which seem to have followed some semantic drift. There is one I have often puzzled over, which occurred in Inara’s boudoir at the school in the movie Serenity.

The Operative: I have a warship in deep orbit, Captain. We locked onto Serenity's pulse beacon the moment you hit atmo. I can speak a word and send a missile to that exact location inside of three minutes.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: You do that; you'd best make peace with your dear and fluffy lord.

What is the interpretation of fluffy in this context? Is this an example of semantic change or was it just a “throwaway” word.

  • Fluffy as in cuddly? Like a fluffy stuffed animal. That was my instinct. Didn't think that was much of a drift. – Radhil Jun 2 '16 at 18:46
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    I'm pretty sure Mal meant "fluffy" like a teddy bear, a comforting but fictional companion for a child. This goes along with Mal's cynical view towards religion. I don't have any confirmation of this interpretation so I'll just leave this as a comment. – EldritchWarlord Jun 2 '16 at 18:51
  • @Radhil That was my first impression also, but "fluffy" and "lord" are not exactly common collocations. – Cascabel Jun 2 '16 at 19:00
  • @Gandalf - no, but the general meaning of "good or pure" being sarcastically twisted into "fuzzy-wuzzies" or something similar is more and more common, and Mal... is exactly that kind of person. – Radhil Jun 2 '16 at 19:07
  • Particularly given that Mal is an atheist by this point and considers God to be nothing more than a comforting tale that people tell to each other, not unlike a security blanket, or a fluffy teddy bear one gives to a child. (Which, upon reading all the comments, is basically exactly what @EldritchWarlord said.) – Roger Jun 2 '16 at 19:13
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Mal seems to be misquoting Shakespeare (in this case Henry V, Act 1, Scene 2)

And God forbid, my dear and faithful lord, that you should invent, twist, or distort your interpretation

The next couple of lines of Henry's speech are especially relevant under the circumstances.

For God knows how many healthy men will shed their blood in support of whatever you persuade me to do. So think carefully before you incite me


"Fluffy" in this instance simply means "nice" or "gentle", albeit said with an atheist's lack of respect. We see a similar turn of speech in Angel, also co-written by Joss Whedon:

ANGELUS: Hey, man, you're preaching to the guy who ate the choir. Wait, it was you, wasn't it? You pulled just the wrong strings to make them think it was their idea. Got 'em to yank that white, fluffy soul, and stuff it in a jar, and then gone, baby, gone.

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    An interesting take, particularly the quote from Angel, which would seem to indicate that it is not semantic drift in the future, but rather a linguistic quirk of Whedon himself. I'm going to let it ferment a while, but I am inclined to mark this off as the answer. – Cascabel Jun 2 '16 at 20:22
  • @Gandalf - He uses the word fluffy quite a lot; "ANYA: Oh, no. I'm sure it frisked about like a fluffy lamb.", "Lorne: The sky is blue, full of big, fluffy clouds.", etc – Valorum Jun 2 '16 at 20:30
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    He does seem to like that word. I wonder why? – Cascabel Jun 2 '16 at 20:37
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    @Gandalf - One of Whedon's trademarks is having his characters speak with an extra, redundant adjective. It makes the speech seem more organic and less scripted. – Valorum Jun 2 '16 at 21:40

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