I’m no etymologist but I do like exploring the genealogies of words: quite often these interrelated family trees reveal the real power of both the spoken and the written word, a kind of magic that’s so much stronger than the weak usage ancient roots are treated to over time.
No, I’ve not gone all conventionally religious. You no doubt know that Easter wasn’t originally a Christian feast but a pagan one. Nearly a millennium and a half ago the Venerable Bede derived the Anglo-Saxon word for April — Eosturmonath or ‘Easter-month’ — from a celebration of the goddess Eostre, the latter probably an ancient divinity symbolising dawn and fertility and therefore extremely apt for the season. As are eggs, daffodils, chicks, lambs and rabbits. You see, words matter.
You may remember, in the immediate wake of the EU Referendum, a ridiculous suggestion that the mottoes Dieu et Mon Droit and Honi soit qui mal y pense be removed from the new British passports on the grounds that they were in French (https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/163824). Yes, even with Brexiteers words matter, though in this case they blew up in the would be petitioner’s face.
You may or may not be pleased to know that the petition to Parliament fell far short of the 10000 signatures required to trigger a debate. Maybe it was down to the counter arguments that words like ‘passport’ were themselves of French or Latin origin, as are all the words below in bold:
The vote to leave the EU means peoplevoted to Take Back Control. Control of their borders, their culture and their language. Whether ‘Dieu et mon droit’ and ‘Honi qui mal y pense’ have existed as mottos in England for ages is irrelevant. French is an EUlanguage and has no place on a UK passport.
The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
Foreword by Max Harris
Senate / Studio Editions 1994 (1811)
No, that’s not good enough. The title page of the original (a facsimile is included in this edition) is much more informative as well as entertaining, and is worth reproducing, after a fashion.
Buckish Slang, University Wit,
AND PICKPOCKET ELOQUENCE.
Compiled originally by Captain Grose.
AND NOW CONSIDERABLY ALTERED AND ENLARGED,
WITH THE MODERN CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS,
MEMBER OF THE WHIP CLUB.
Hell-Fire Dick, and James Gordon, Esqrs. of Cambridge; and William
Soames, Esq. of the Hon. Society of Newman’s Hotel.
So just what is this Lexicon Balatonicum and what was its purpose? To answer the last first: it was a spoof dictionary, a compilation of obscure and not so obscure words and phrases put together for a laugh. The clue is in its first title: Continue reading “How to speak improper”→
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.