Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mmmmmmm, English!

Or, The Joys Of Torture...

Something lures about English, to native speakers possessed of a bit of fluency, a fancy for comedy and a weak spot for the works of Chris Morris, Armando Ianucci, Charlie Brooker and John Stewart.

That thing is: deliberately mucking about with the English language.

Not in the "text-speak" gibberish that the (generally) illiterate unhosed spout forth on MySpace, nor the incomprehensible twaddle found in forums by those too lazy to reach all the way up there for the spell-checker (or doing what the rest of us had to do without seemingly dying of the effort - pay attention at school).

This is more like grabbing semi-related words and making them, nay forcing them to make an odd, off-kilter sense. From Chris Morris’ concocted phrases such as arse-candle, fuck-nut, cold shit action and the frankly terrifying roboplegic wrongcock to John Stewart’s Midtacular coverage of the recent merry-go-round of electorial pageantry on display in the US, there seems to be a resurgence of word-smithing and striking anew of phrases and terminology.

Good Dog asked me the other day for a more colourful term of derogation for use in a blog entry. Sick of the overuse of words like wanker, asshole and twat, he wanted something with a little more panache to enliven the vitriol.

I suggested an old favourite of mine, slubberdegullion. Not in everyday use (more’s the pity), it’s a term which you don’t get confused about (like the US has over bollocks). You know if you call someone a slubberdegullion, you aren’t being complimentary.

Here’s a section of Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, dated 1653, drawing heavily on vocabulary used in Scotland in his time and featuring a variant spelling of slubberdegullion. Dive in and experience utter wordgasm:
The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, called them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf.
Why oh why oh why is that not the way in which we converse these days?

I’m particularly enthralled by the ones that stand out by their sheer normality, such as “staring clowns” or the fact that he then mentions “other suchlike defamatory epithets”. You mean there were more? Like this? Wow...

I’ve also dreamed up my own (undoubtedly inaccurate) rendering of the last sentiment, “the great brown household loaf”. “They’re not allowed cakes, so they should eat shit”. Charming, eh? The next time you want to slyly insult someone, tell them to go and eat of the great brown household loaf.

Get these terms into everyday use and do it now. Better still, lob them into a bit of dialogue. No-one will notice...

I really do insist. ;-)

For more fun, check out World Wide Words, in particular their Weird Words section.


At 2:19 pm, Blogger Caroline said...

Completely off topic here, still considering a thoughtful response, but, is there an email by which one (meaning me) might contact you off blogland for a chat?

At 6:18 pm, Blogger litbrit said...

One of my dearest readers, oddjob, sent me a subscription to this wonderful site called Wordsmith. If you're at all interested in etymology, it's great fun to receive a new word in your email every morning (Word a Day). And the stories and comments from others in the word-wonk community are priceless.

At 9:45 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

@caroline: for starters,, swapping out the -AT- for an @, obviously... ;-)

@litbrit: you lovely thing! "word-wonk" certainly deserves a prize of some sort... I'll check out Wordsmith, ta muchly.

At 1:15 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Great Brown Household Loaf

Interesting...... I'm by no means a scholar in the use of English at that place & time, yet I can't help but suspect that this is meant to be a double entendre (or something of the sort). Brown bread would probably have been made from a less expensive/lower quality flour (either a rye, or oat, or something) and so more affordable for a working class household, and then - ahem - there's that - other - allusion............

- oddjob

At 4:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preach it, brother.


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