New England is where Marshmallow Fluff was created more than 100 years ago, and is still made and largely consumed — often by children in a peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwich.
It is also where Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, was founded and still operates. And last week, the company announced that the common name for the sandwich, “fluffernutter,” was among the 455 new terms added to its pages.
New Englanders rejoiced. But why admit such a long-lived word to the lexicon now?
Fluffernutter, defined by the dictionary as “a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow crème between two slices of white sandwich bread,” stood out among newer phrases like “vaccine passport” and “dad bod.” Even I, a New Englander who packed fluffernutters in her childhood lunchbox, had not thought much about the sandwich lately.
Marshmallow Fluff, the brand of crème typically used in a fluffernutter, has been around since at least 1917, when a man named Archibald Query first sold it door to door in Somerville, Mass. Soon after, two friends named H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower bought his formula for $500 and first marketed it as Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff.
In the following decades, Fluff’s popularity spread. Its manufacturer, the Durkee Mower Company in Lynn, Mass., now pumps out about eight million pounds of the product each year, according to Jonathan Durkee, the Durkee Mower president and the co-founder’s grandson. (A traditional plastic tub of Fluff contains one pound, but Fluff is also sold in a 7.5-ounce glass jar.)
“I grew up eating these,” said Kathi Reinstein, a former Massachusetts legislator who had petitioned several times, unsuccessfully, to make fluffernutters the official state sandwich. “There are some things you can create and they make you think of all the warm and fuzzy stuff that mattered to you. And one of those is the fluffernutter.”
The treat is so beloved that Somerville is home to an annual What the Fluff? festival, where tens of thousands of people celebrate every possible use of the concoction, a mixture of corn syrup, sugar, egg white and vanillin.
Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Mass., said the local enthusiasm for Fluff did not influence the dictionary’s decision-making. “We are not the dictionary of New England English,” he said.
“There is no advocacy,” he added, and a word’s currency is not necessarily a function of novelty. “We watch to see, is this word’s use growing or is it falling? If the word is growing — even incrementally, even slowly, like fluffernutter — then it belongs in the dictionary.”
He added, “Every word has its own pace.”
The “evidence of first use” for fluffernutter occurred in The Daily Freeman newspaper in Kingston, N.Y., on Nov. 20, 1961, Mr. Sokolowski said. But over the years, the word remained mostly spoken and rarely printed, so it lacked the criteria for inclusion in the dictionary.
In 2006, a political kerfuffle began to change that. A state senator in Massachusetts, upset that his son wanted Fluff after eating a fluffernutter at school, sought to limit how many times a school could serve the sandwiches each week, as part of a bill to improve nutrition. (The New York Times reported at the time that fluffernutters met nutritional guidelines in the son’s school district; Fluff has fewer sugars per serving — six grams per two tablespoons — than many jellies.)
In response, Ms. Reinstein filed legislation to make the fluffernutter the state sandwich. She recalled constituents’ yelling, “Fight for Fluff! Fight for Fluff!”
Both the senator’s and Ms. Reinstein’s efforts languished, but Mr. Sokolowski said the resulting national media coverage helped put the word on a trajectory to eventually join the dictionary. Merriam-Webster chose “fluffernutter” — one word, lowercase — because publications mostly styled the term this way, though the entry offers an uppercase variant, Mr. Sokolowski said.
“It’s very cool, there’s no question about it,” said Mr. Durkee, whose company makes Marshmallow Fluff. “We were out walking the dog, and I saw a number of neighbors and friends on the walk. And they’re all saying, ‘Hey, we saw the news about the dictionary!’”
New Englanders also seem to agree on another key fluffernutter element.
Mimi Graney founded the Fluff festival and documented the history of the ingredient in her book “Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon.”
Like others interviewed, she said: “If you’re going to put Fluff on a sandwich, it’s got to have the Teddie peanut butter, which is another New England brand.”
But just as the word is recorded for posterity, the actual sandwich may be waning in popularity. Outside New England, it is fairly rare, with Fluff not as widely available west of the Mississippi River (though Kraft sells a similar product called Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme). And as schools nationwide move toward nut-free policies to protect children with allergies, students may be more likely to run across “fluffernutter” in the dictionary than a fluffernutter in the lunchroom.