E-MAGAZINE 677: SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Rub of the green Mat Coward removed surviving doubts about the meaning of this expression as the BDO world darts champion used it and which prompted the question about it last week. He wrote, “What Wolfie Adams meant in this case is that he was (arguably) lucky to win some of the early legs, since he wasn’t playing as well as he might, but that his survival was essentially his opponent’s fault, who had him at his mercy several times, and failed to deliver the decisive shots. My detailed memory of the match might impress you less if I confess I had a fiver on his opponent at 66–1. In current sports-commentary-speak, to have the rub of the green invariably means to have the greater share of any good luck going.”
What paddy shot at “In the US,” e-mailed Phil Vassar, “at least the southern part thereof, we have since time out of mind used the expression, ‘What the little boy shot at’, signifying an effort rewarded with nothing. The sense of it is that the little boy shot his gun, as little boys will, at nothing at all — his only target, you see, was the joy of shooting and the glorious noise it made. Not, I grant, particularly complimentary to little boys, no more than what Paddy shot at is to the Irish. Still, to anyone who grew up hearing and saying either phrase the image is graphic and immediate.”
I’ve added an extended version of my comments to the Web site.
Parson’s Poke Mike Beisty asked about another cribbage term: “I encountered what paddy shot at in The Darling Buds of May when Pop declared it to be his hand, but could not find out what it meant. Subsequent to this Pop says ‘Let’s have a Parson’s Poke!’ but Ma replies ‘No more Parson’s Pokes. Too many Parson’s Pokes are bad luck.’ I have searched for its meaning but so far have drawn a blank. I have even contacted the H E Bates society without reply. Could you shed some light on this expression please?” I can’t. Can anybody?
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2. Weird Words: Tumbarumba
No, tumbarumba is another name for tmesis, one form of which is that curious trick of stuffing one word into the middle of another. Abso-bloody-lutely, a whole nother, fan-bloody-tastic and any-blooming-where are classic cases, though many of the most powerful examples include the F-word. For a reason buried in local linguistic history it’s a verbal tic Australians are fond of, who insert their favourite adjective, bloody, to great effect.
The origin of the term is disputed, but who can sensibly decry the claim of this de-flaming-lightful poem to be the origin:
“Howya bloody been, ya drongo, haven’t seen ya fer a week,
The Integrated Adjective, or Tumba Bloody Rumba, by John O’Grady.
3. What I've learned this week
Blizzard words There’s no direct equivalent in the US of the British Queen’s English, but the nearest may perhaps be the language the president uses. So when he called the snowstorms around Washington last weekend snowmageddon, we ought to consider it seriously as an addition to the language. Certainly, it was widely reported in newspapers worldwide. The other term often paired with it was the equally inventive snowpocalypse. Their users have, of course, brought out existing terms from the dusty mental cupboard in which such are stored against possible future application — the former appeared before Christmas 2008 in the US and the following spring in the UK, and the latter as the tag for a snowstorm in the north-eastern US in October 2006. Others have been creative, with terms such as snownami, snowverkill and snowverload appearing.
Time to chit
On the road Whenever the UK nears a general election, as we are doing at the moment, polling companies rush to identify some man or woman who epitomises the key floating voters in the forthcoming struggle. They’re often described alliteratively: in 2001, we had Pebbledash People, married professional couples living in semi-detached houses in the suburbs (pebbledash is an external roughcast rendering of stones embedded in mortar; the Scots call it harling). In 1997 came Worcester Woman, a white-collar professional who swung from Conservative to Labour, and Mondeo Man, a term coined by Tony Blair — in reference to the Ford Mondeo — for a type of middle-income homeowner whom Labour needed to attract. This election, the first such sighting is of a relative to the last of these: motorway man. He’s young, childless, rootless and materialistic. He usually lives in a newly built suburb in the English midlands conveniently close to the main motorway networks, since he’s a car-dependent middle manager or sales rep who travels a lot for his job.
4. Reviews: Barrelhouse Words
Written by Stephen Calt and reviewed by Dick Pountain.
Dick Pountain is a British technical author and editor who wrote both the New and the Concise Penguin Dictionaries of Computing; in the 1960s he was involved with the situationist group King Mob and wrote on politics, music and film for the underground magazines Oz, Ink, Friends, Cream and more.
While collecting vocabulary for this excellent blues dictionary, lexicographer Stephen Calt faced a major problem: white folks done stole the very words from the mouths of those poor (often blind) rural singers who invented this popular art form in the first third of the 20th century.
Regrettably this process robbed blues lyrics of most of their bleak and fragile poetry, emphasising only their hedonistic worship of sex, booze and drugs. To sidestep this pollution Calt deliberately restricted his search field to the period between about 1900 and 1930 when blues was still being made and consumed by black audiences, either on 78rpm shellac records or live in the eponymous barrelhouse (an illegal rural combination of bar, brothel and gambling den).
Calt’s tone is demythologising throughout, showing that the lexicon of the blues was drawn almost entirely from everyday speech. Exotic constructions such as first thing smoking, jelly roll and diddy wah diddy were actually common in the period and many can be traced back to old English usages of the plantation owners. Calt stresses that the concerns of the blues were the tribulations of post-slavery rural poverty rather than artistic expression for its own sake. Above all it was a music by and for grown-ups, albeit struggling and deeply dissatisfied ones.
Consider the word mojo. Calt explains that this originally meant a lucky charm in the shape of a hand, often worn between the legs, by gamblers and by women (against infidelity). It derives either from the West African Fula word moco’o, a medicine man, or from Gullah moco, meaning witchcraft or magic. It’s now the name of a successful magazine for middle-class white rock fans, and a jokey term of macho boasting about one’s power and influence that’s used by everyone from TV comedians to Wall Street brokers.
An enormous strength of his dictionary is that every definition is illustrated with a complete stanza from a blues song in which it occurs, making it a joy to read as well as a valuable reference. For more than 40 years I’ve been puzzled by one line in Robert Johnson’s 1936 Come On In My Kitchen:
Aw she’s gone, I know she won’t come back,
but Calt explains it succinctly thus “A pouch worn by jukehouse proprietors to collect proceeds from food and drink, hence its formal name, donation sack.” Deciphering that term altered the whole context of the song in my mind.
I found just one definition that I’d dare question, and that’s rumble seat, which in Calt’s definition has nothing directly to do with the US term for a folding seat at the back of a vehicle (we Brits would call it a dicky), but is simply a humorous euphemism for the backside. I’d bet it specifically refers to an obsolete style of underwear with a rear-opening flap, as in “Mississippi” John Hurt’s great line:
With rosy red garters and pink hose on my feet,
Richland Women Blues.
Stephen Calt’s book is not just a great contribution to blues scholarship but a resource that any blues lover will want to keep close by.
[Stephen Calt, Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary, published by the University of Illinois Press in October 2009, pp320; ISBN13: 9780252076602; ISBN-10: 0252076605; publisher’s price US$70.00 (hardback), US$26.96 (paperback).]
• A report on the bad weather around Washington last weekend appeared in the Observer on Sunday: “The cable news shows ... sent dozens of reporters out into the freezing cold to provide blanket coverage of the blizzard.” Did it help warm things up?
• If the Archbishop of Canterbury had read, as Julane Marx did, a heading in the entertainment gossip section of MSN on Thursday, he would no doubt have had a theologically appropriate comment to make. All I can do is repeat it: “Gossip: Madonna reunites with Jesus”.
• A correction on the Web site of the Los Angeles Times reads: “In some editions of Sunday’s Section A, an article about Sarah Palin’s speech to the National Tea Party Convention quoted her as saying, ‘How’s that hopey, changing stuff working out for you?’ She said, ‘How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?’” It would seem the article’s writer didn’t know that hopey, changey is an anti-Obama slogan deriding his two principal election slogans, hope and change.
• British newspapers reported this week on the failure of trials of an amphibious bus to replace a Glasgow ferry. I didn’t think such vehicles were in use on oceans, despite Ian Harrison’s forwarding of this comment from News24 on 8 February: “Planes were grounded, trains stood still and Greyhound buses weren’t rolling in the Mid-Atlantic on Sunday.”
• Eoin C Bairéad thought a message posted to an archaeological list worthy of the comment “Nuff said!” It announced that a Florida research team was “seeking Submerged Prehistoric Archaeologists to complement our expanding Maritime Division.”
6. Copyright and contact details
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