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Ganderflanking

It all began with an item on local dialect on the BBC Radio Wiltshire morning show in November 2013.

Mervin Grist of the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre mentioned ganderflanking, a one-time local word for aimlessly messing about. Sim Courtie, the show’s presenter, loved it and started a campaign to get it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yesterday the campaign gained significant ground by getting “ganderflanking” into Hansard, the official parliamentary record, after the MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland, obligingly asked the Speaker, John Bercow, whether it was parliamentary. Mr Bercow did not rule it out of order, although he suggested the word “aimless” is tautological in this context, unless in Wiltshire there are people who mess around with a purpose.

The Independent, 10 Jan 2014.

Sir Graham Watson, the member of the European Parliament for the South West of England, helped further by telling the EU parliament in Strasbourg that the British government must stop ganderflanking and apply for flood assistance for the South West.

It seems unlikely, however, that this brief spurt of interest, echoed by many comments in social media, will have any long-term influence on the popularity of the word. It’s very unlikely it will ever be included in the Oxford English Dictionary because it’s long obsolete and unrecorded in print other than in dictionaries.

It is in one major work, the six-volume English Dialect Dictionary of 1898-1905. This has it in the sense of frolicking, larking or gadding about, though in 1893 a publication of its parent body, the English Dialect Society, preferred to define it as “To go off larking or wondermenting”. This last word was another Wiltshire term, meaning to play the fool or waste time over unprofitable work, which you may feel has at least as good a claim to revival.

The EDD has two related words in the same sense as ganderflanking: gander-mooning from Gloucestershire and the more widely recorded gander-legging. These suggests that ganderflanking is not a variation on gallivanting, as has been suggested, but is linked to the seemingly aimless wandering of geese.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Jan. 2014

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Last modified: 25 January 2014.