Monday, 10 January 2011

Godwottery


There was a truly terribly Victorian poet called T.E. Brown. His verse is filled with the three Victorian vices: unnecessary piety, unnecessary children, and unnecessary medievalisms. His most famous work is probably the following:

A GARDEN is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot—
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not—
Not God ! in gardens ! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Reading that first line is like fighting George Foreman. There's the little jab of lovesome and just as you're disorientated, wondering why it wasn't lovely or pleasant - BAM! - you're hit full in the face by God wot!

God wot meant God knows and was used for emphasis in the seventeenth century, but what's it doing here? It reads like the stained glass in a Victorian porch and then you realise it's only there to rhyme with the affected grot, and then with the clumsy construction God is not. Dear me, and pass the laudanum.

But this terrible poem became terribly popular. It was anthologised in such works as Ye gardeyne boke: a collection of quotations instructive and sentimental, gathered and arranged and Scouting for Girls: The Official Handbook of the Girl Scouts. It's the sort of thing Mr Pooter probably wrote above his garden door.

So famous did the line become that, in the 1930s, it gave a new and wonderful word to the English language: godwottery.

Godwottery can mean two things. First, it can mean the use of affected archaisms, and verily, the poet that useth godwottery is a tosser, iwis.

Godwottery can also mean tacky gardening. The collective noun for a horde of gnomes and charming water-features is godwottery. Here, for example, is Anthony Burgess writing in 1960:

...little girls in pinafores of an earlier age shnockled over stained half-eaten apples; all the boys seemed to have cleft palates. Still, it seemed to me far healthier than the surrounding suburb. Who shall describe their glory, those semi-detacheds with the pebble-dash all over the blind-end walls, the tiny gates which you could step over, the god-wottery in the toy gardens?

And, before you ask: No. I have no idea what shnockled means. Any guesses?

The Inky Fool's garden needed a little work

5 comments:

  1. Shnockled? Burgess seems to be the only person to have spelled it like this; the most common spelling appears to be 'Schnockled'.
    In general, schnockled means 'inebriated', 'wasted', 'plastered', 'three sheets to the wind'; though where the pinafored girls obtained their spiked apples is a mystery.
    It can also mean 'destroyed' in a more basic sense, such as being monumentally drubbed in a sporting event...

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  2. The Antipodean, resolving to use iwis in a memo,10 January 2011 at 13:46

    Guess-wise, I had a mental picture of grubby nine year olds snuffling and snickering and crunching nasally. Although it could also mean bargaining or arguing in that context, couldn't it?

    Google-wise, apart from the assorted vinomadefied themes, I did find this, which if Google and I are translating properly, seems to have evolved to do with mosquitoes? It does involve that Germanic c, but means something like old geezer, so an alternative option is that they're being somehow geezerish about their half-eaten apples.

    All of which reminded me of the sn- words: the schn- group have a character all their own, possibly due to the Germanic influence.

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  3. Hmm. Makes me think of Snorkels...
    Perhaps it is just as you say:
    'Snuffling'.

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  4. I think it was one of the Mitford sisters who got into trouble as a child by altering the first line to "A garden is a lovesome thing - God, what rot".

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  5. I always liked it, but becaue of the last 2 lines. I am very sure God walks in my garden. But I had forgotten he (Brown) borrowed that "Cool of the eve" line from Genesis. And the first part of the poem really is an affected Victorian horror.
    I first encountered the poem on a greeting card when I was about 8 years old, so perhaps I can excuse the mental lapse.

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