Definition:(Noun – also possible to use as a verb) An excessive amount, an overindulgence.
Origin: 14th Century – entered the English Language from old French – ‘sur’ meaning ‘over’ and ‘faire’ meaning ‘do’ – literally, to overdo.
Why this word?
I came across this word when reading about the English King Henry I. His favourite food was the lamprey – a type of eel very common on the English dinner plate up to the 1800s. It was the medieval version of a Big Mac in many ways. In fact, so fond was Henry of this food that he is recorded of having died in 1135 on a trip to St. Denis en Lyons (France) due to having eaten a ‘surfeit of lampreys’. Stuffing one’s face with fast food to the point of death has never sounded so elegant.
An interesting – but rather useless – informational side note: the king’s body was sewn up in a bull’s hide for transportation back to England …
How and when to use this word in a sentence:
My recommendation is to use this in the place of a collective term for a noun beginning with ‘s’. In particular, I’ve noticed that the collective noun for ‘surfers’ is the rather lame ‘wave’ – surely it’s time to replace the phrase a wave of surfers with the much more pleasing ‘surfeit of surfers’?
Rather interestingly, surfeit can apparently also be used as a verb. Although it sounds very ugly and cumbersome, it is possible to say that someone was surfeiting. It is a real word – but it probably shouldn’t be. I suspect that surfeiting – just like sooth – are examples of a surfeit of sayings best consigned to that big ol’ lexicology in the sky.