Sunday 11 April 2010


According to the Daily Mail (which is always utterly reliable on such matters), immigrant gangs have been mutilating children before sending them to beg on the streets of Britain.

I have to say that I was extremely dissappointed by the Mail's reporting. Not because of any content, it was simply that there are so few opportunities to use the word comprachico in the world today that I really think they should have taken this one up.

A comprachico (from the Spanish child-buyer) is someone who mutilates children professionally. The idea was popularised by Victor Hugo in The Man Who Laughs. He's quite helpful on the subject, pointing out that "a dwarf must be started when he is small", which must, I suppose, be where Werner Herzog got the title for Even Dwarfs Started Small.

For any would-be comprachicos out there, the correct method for making a child a dwarf is to feed him a kind of moth called a knot grass. As Lysander says in Midsummer Night's Dream:

Get you gone, you dwarf,
You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made;
You bead, you acorn!

Alternatively you can use dwarf elder. If you're wondering why anybody would want to turn a child into a dwarf, the answer is that they were apparently very popular as jesters.

Anyway, there was a lovely word pining away for lack of use, and the Daily Mail left it there unused. Frankly, it makes me sick.

They did, though, manage to refer to it as a "twisted version of Oliver Twist", which just about makes up.

Don Sebastián de Morra, Philip IV's court jester


  1. And this was a word just sitting, idling in your vocabulary waiting to spring into action?
    I'm more than impressed. At the vocabulary, of course, but also at the recall...

    Your mix of wordplay and interesting background information is irresistible, but sometimes I have to steel myself to make a comment, fearful as I am of appearing to be a complete idiot.

  2. Deborah, you never appear anything other than masterful in your comments. To be honest, I'd misremembered the word as comprachino but was corrected by google.
    It's hardly the sort of profession you'd forget about. The applications I sent off...

  3. The Chinese grew/raised (some)children in vases and then cracked them (the vases) open when they (the children)were deformed enough to be considered - well, I was looking for a word that means beautifully ugly but can't find one.

    Step in and rescue me, Dogberry, there's a good chap.

    P.S. I am going to have to give up the DM. I get so cross I fire off an email and then get even crosser when they don't publish it.

  4. On a (loosely) related point - I overheard some teenage girls talking at the weekend. One remonstrated with another: 'You can't say 'goblin'. It's not politically correct.'
    Yes - because it would offend our nation's... erm... goblins?

  5. The Antipodean26 June 2010 at 11:40

    If the nation has goblins, brokenbiro, you certainly wouldn't want to offend them, as they're generally not very cheerful types. Best be on the safe side, I supposed.

    Dissapointed, Dogberry? I'd make a joke about you dissing the DM, except that I dislike the term 'dissing.'