Saturday 30 April 2011


The Atlantic has put up its original review of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. My favourite thing about it comes in the second paragraph:

Wherefore, in Galileo's time, we might have helped to proscribe, or to burn had he been stubborn enough to warrant cremation-even the great pioneer of inductive research; although, when we had fairly recovered our composure, and had leisurely excogitated the matter, we might have come to conclude that the new doctrine was better than the old one, after all, at least for those who had nothing to unlearn.

Excogitated! Wondrous! I suppose it means to think out  - excogito ergo summarise.

Indeed, the OED says that it does mean think out, and moreover contains the wonderful adjective excogitous, used only once in 1646 in the sentence "Impatience is very excogitous."

An excogitous statue

Thursday 28 April 2011

William the Conqueror

I was casting about in my tiny mind for something about regal nuptials, and couldn't think of anything. However, I did remember a story about a previous King William. The following is a piece of gossip noted down by a Londoner called Manningham in 1602. You'll need to know that Richard Burbage was the lead actor in Shakespeare's company. He was the first Hamlet, the first Macbeth, and the first Richard III. Now read on:

Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night with her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III, Shakespeare’s name William.

You old dog, you.

Wednesday 27 April 2011


There is, dear reader, a precise word for not being able to remember the precise word: lethologica. This was sometime a paradox, but next time you misplace the mot juste, comfort yourself with the fact that you are simply having a lethological moment.

Lethologica was invented by Carl Jung and is simply a combination of lethe - forgetfulness - and logica- wordy. In Greek mythology there was a river of forgetfulness in the underworld called Lethe. When you bathed in Lethe you forgot everything and were washed in sweet oblivion. That's why Keats opens Ode to a Nightingale with:

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains
My senses, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past and Lethewards had sunk.

Similarly, when Hamlet's dead daddy reveals that he's been murdered, he's pleased to see that Hamlet gets antsy:

...duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this.

There's also some poem where Time sits on the banks of Lethe throwing people's names in to the water, but I can't remember what it is. Perhaps it's Dante. It sounds like Dante. Anybody know? I just can't remember.

Jung tries to remember that splendid word he thought up.

Tuesday 26 April 2011


There aren't nearly enough disparaging word for libidinous men. There are plenty for women. Language, in this way, is quite ungentlemanly. However, leafing through Nathan Bailey's Dictionarium Domesticum (1736) I came across a wonderful phrase: hore-hound.

Admittedly, hore-hound, as Bailey used it, has nothing to do with sex. In fact, it's just a recipe with an amusing name. Yet with its pleasant alliteration and doggy implications I feel it could be usefully carried over as a modern synonym for a coney-chaser.

In case you were wondering, and I'm sure you weren't, the Hore-Hound recipe goes like this:

The leaves of this being roasted in a cabbage under hot ashes and pounded with some salt will cure the stinging of serpents and biting dogs: they are also good for humours and chaps in the fundament; being apply'd  with some honey they will clease foul ulcers: the decoction of it is good for a cough and difficulty of breathing by its cleansing the lungs and promoting spitting.

So if you find a chap in your fundament, get yourself a hore-hound.

Supply your own caption

Sunday 24 April 2011

The Dream of the Rood

Over on McSweeney's they have a little comedy piece about possible Easter films, including:

Good, Better, Best Friday

Musical comedy about the crucifixion of Christ—but from the point of view of the cross. Think Happy Feet meets Passion of the Christ with a dash of Showboat.

It's a ridiculous idea, it would be like doing a version of the Crucifixion as an Anglo-Saxon warrior-poem—but from the point of view of the cross. Think Beowulf meets Passion of the Christ with a dash of The Book of the Duchess.

That, of course, has already been done. It's called The Dream of the Rood. Here's a taster:

Ealle ic mihte
feondas gefyllan, hwæðre ic fæste stod.
Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð, (þæt wæs god ælmihtig),
strang ond stiðmod. Gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde mancyn lysan.
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte.

And here's a translation:

I might have
felled all the fiends; even so, I stood fast.
He stripped himself then, young hero - that was God almighty -
strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,
brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.
I trembled when the warrior embraced me;

Rood was the Old English word for cross. Cross is the Celtic version and was only introduced by Irish missionaries in the tenth century. Incidentally, the phrase criss-cross is only a garbling of Christ's cross, which is therefore blasphemous.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some tearful gardening to do.

And I thought my front door was unwieldy.

Saturday 23 April 2011


Today is, traditionally, Shakespeare's birthday. So here is Shakespeare on the subject of getting old. He wrote a lot of sonnets about ageing, but I've always suspected that he wrote this one on his birthday:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith, being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight
And Time that gave, doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of Nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow;
And yet, to times in hope, my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Cry God for Shakespeare, England and Saint George.

Why has nobody ever Photoshopped™ some hair back onto this?

Friday 22 April 2011

And a merry Easter to you, Mr Eliot.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

- East Coker

An oddity of this little fragment is that it contains a double eye-rhyme: food, blood and good - ude, udd and... I don't know the phonetic alphabet well enough, but you see what I mean: good rhymes with hood, blood rhymes with mud and food rhymes with nude.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
And blow it in one fiery cough
To kingdom come! More bombs! Although
One nuke's enough.

Other such non-rhymes in the comments, please.

Thursday 21 April 2011

The Land of the Nicotinians

A nicotian is, according to the OED, a rare and poetic word for a smoker of tobacco; as in Oliver Wendell Holmes lines:

It isn't for me to throw stones, though, who have been a Nicotian a good deal more than half my days. Cigar-stump out now, and consequently have become very bitter on more persevering sinners.

Indeed, flicking around the nico bit of the OED you find Nicotinian, which means approximately the same thing ("lapped in nicotinean Elysium"), and even a goddess called Nicotia, whose forbears were helpfully delineated by James Russell Lowell thusly:

Now the kind nymph to Bacchus born
By Morpheus' daughter, she that seems
Gifted upon her natal morn
By him with fire, by her with dreams,
Nicotia, dearer to the Muse
Than all the grape's bewildering juice,
We worship, unforbid of thee;
And, as her incense floats and curls,
In airy spires and wayward whirls,
Or poises on its tremulous stalk
A flower of frailest revery,
So winds and loiters, idly free...

It's enough to leave you fuming. I hereby demand that every sign with Designated Smoking Area written on it must be torn down and replaced with one saying Shrine to Nicotia or Land of the Nicotineans.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

National Gaiety

Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay...
That it is peril of oure chastitee

Said Chaucer six hundred and something years ago.

Aunt: Why are you wearing these clothes?
David: Because I just went gay, all of a sudden.

Thus the film Bringing Up Baby in 1938.

And then, quite suddenly, the word gay leapt out of the closet singing a showtune. This shift is usually dated to the beginning of the 1940s. But gay left its brothers behind. This from yesterday's Evening Standard describing some forthcoming nuptials:

...the gaiety and chutzpah will tend to be on the Middleton side.

Will it? My word! Who would have thought that our future queen was that way inclined? And the England manager too? Impossible! Not according to Sky Sports:

All hail Mr Capello then for a week in which he's been upsetting all and sundry with the gay abandon we've secretly grown to admire

Well, I'd say I'll be blowed but you might misunderstand my relationship with both Mr Capello and the Middletons. Blowed, not blown. What's peculiar here is that while the adjective gay shifted suddenly and irrevocably in meaning, the noun gaiety stayed exactly where it was, unaffected by the explosion. Nobody talks about Elton John's gaiety, and if they did we would assume that the chap was happy. Gay abandon can survive in football, of all sweaty and uncouth places, without anybody batting an eyelid. But gay? Gay is gay and bound to stay that way.

Strange how two forms of one word can split like that, but I suppose it all adds to the homosexuality of nations.

Angry gaiety

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Cry Havoc

Havoc is a funny old word. I think that I only use it myself in the phrase play havoc, as in "Ortolan plays havoc with my digestion". This is because I never realised that havoc is, technically, a military command.

There are two bits, you see, to being a soldier. There are the battles, which are rather difficult and require discipline. Then, when the battle is won and there are only civilians left, the soldier's fun really starts.

So once the general is happy that the enemy has been routed and the city is ours he gives the order to his men that they may plunder, pillage and ransack everything that isn't bolted down and some things that are. This order is Havoc, because havoc literally means plunder.  And once the general has cried havoc the troops can do whatsoever and whomsoever they like.

Once you realise that crying havoc was a standard part of warfare and, indeed, goes straight back to the French crier havoc, Mark Antony's promise to Julius Caesar's corpse makes a lot more sense:

Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Ate, by the way, was a goddess who personified a mad impulse towards destruction. She was the eldest daughter of Zeus, and I fear I may have gone out with her at some point.

Anyway, what this post is leading round to, is that "Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war" is, technically, a booty call.

The party was a mixed success

Monday 18 April 2011

The Four and Twenty Letters

In Sir Francis Bacon's essay Of Friendship, I came across this:

As for business, a man may think, if he will, that two eyes see no more than one; or that a gamester seeth always more than a looker-on; or that a man in anger is as wise as he that hath said over the four and twenty letters; or that a musket may be shot off as well upon the arm as upon a rest; and such other fond and high imaginations, to think himself all in all.

The reason it is four and twenty lessons is that, in the orthographically straitened times in which Bacon lived, there were only twenty-four letters in the alphabet. They managed this because u and v were considered the same letter, as were i and j. That's why in those renaissance paintings of the crucifixion the letters INRI are written on the cross. INRI stands for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, or Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews. We would therefore write JNRJ, but that's because we have more letters than we know what to do with.

What really strikes me about Bacon's allusion is that reciting the twenty four letters was the standard method of calming down. Where we would say "Take a deep breath and count to ten", they would take a deep breath and recite the entire alphabet, which must, I suppose, be 140% more effective, assuming emotions to run on linear mathematics. This means that renaissance England must have been a much calmer place than modern and furious Britain.

Mind you, a few pages away there's a lovely comment that: is the nature of extreme self-lovers, as they will set an house on fire, and it were but to roast their eggs.

Which seems a pretty damned furious method of cookery. I confess, though, that what I really love about that last quotation is that it is, technically, Bacon on eggs.

Breakfast is on its way

Sunday 17 April 2011


There's often a slight problem when I do one of these posts on obscure yet delightful words: Is it a real word? And what can you possibly mean by the word real?

If lots of people use a word, then it's real. But what about words there were used only once or twice? Any fool can invent a word - let's say flobdollody - and claim that it means a desire to eat unicorns, and use it once. Nobody will take any notice of it, of course, and it will never make the dictionary.

If Shakespeare thinks up a word it automatically qualifies for the OED, because Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever breathed. But there are other scribblers who seem to get all their coinages into the hallowed Oxonian pages of the Richard Snary. Sir Thomas Urquhart, for example, has 372 of his own inventions tucked away in the dictionary, one of which is logopandocie.

Logos was Greek for word, and also for meaning and truth and all sorts of other things. When John's Gospel opens with "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God", it's logos in the original* Greek.

Meanwhile, pandokeia was inn-keeping, it was the practice of running a tavern. Now the thing about a tavern is that anyone who feels like it can wander in, and they often do. So logopandocie is running a word tavern, or, as the OED puts it, a readiness to admit all kinds of words. It's applicable to a dictionary, to a language, and this blog.

An editorial meeting at Inky Fool Mansions
*Well, it was probably originally in Aramaic, but that's another story.

Friday 15 April 2011

Ghoulish Cats

Ghoulish is a word much beloved of the tabloid press. Anything can be ghoulish, from serial killers to a bad round of golf, or as the Daily Express would put it: "one of the most ghoulish Masters bloodbaths in history."

Ghoul, or ghul, is an Arabic word and was a beast that hung around in graveyards and was meant to devour or seize corpses, and ghul meant seize. So what was this strange cadaver-devouring creature, this chewer of corpses, as Joyce would have called it? Was it a thing of myth? A kink in the Middle Eastern imagination?

No. A ghoul is just a cat. Apparently*, they're rather problematic in graveyards. So ghoulish is simply feline.

*I was told this by an ethnographic friend of mine, but he's got a PHD so I believe every word he says.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Word-pecking Bibliomancy

I opened an old dictionary today, just to find a funny word. And the first thing that my lazy eye dropped on was this:

Word-pecker, one that play's with Words

And, yes, the apostrophe is in the original. But I was perturbed, perturbed and frightened. Have dictionaries turned against me as the fleas in a flea circus sometimes turn upon their trainer and, driving him into an itching frenzy, pursue him into the sea? I don't want to be a variant wood-pecker.

The Romans used to practice the Sortes Virgilianae, where they would open a copy of the Aeneid at random, stick in a pin and read the verse, which they would interpret as being about them or their future. Others do the same with the Bible or Jilly Cooper novels. I do it with dictionaries. That's how I know the practice is called bibliomancy. But if dictionaries turn against Inky Fool, then whither my desiderata and ambitions? Whither my megalomaniac whimsies?

So I glanced tearfully across at the facing page and found:

Wind-mills in the Head, empty Projects

The brain-scan results were unexpected

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Terror, Pity and Soup

Inexplicably, I have been reading a book from 1765 called Tour to London. It's by a Frenchman called Pierre-Jean Grosley who wanted to explain to his countrymen exactly what's wrong with the English. There's the obvious stuff about English cooking (we are, apparently, "strangers to soup"), but there's some interesting stuff about the theatre. It's in the section on why the English are so melancholy.

Bascially, Grosley thinks it's all Shakespeare's fault. His analysis is fascinating because it's essentially a brief account of English dramatic theory in the mid-eighteenth century, with all sorts of funny details about staging.

The theatrical exhibitions of the English equally contribute to feed, or rather increase the national melancholy. The tragedies, which the people are most fond of, consist of a number of bloody scenes, shocking to humanity…

Scenes of battery and carnage are generally preceded by laying a large thick carpet upon the stage, to represent the field of battle, and which is afterwards carried off with the dead bodies, to leave the trap doors at liberty for the ghosts…

[The ghosts torment their murderers and...]

It is easy to guess what effect this must have upon the imaginations of the English. They are very ready to carry their children to the playhouse; alleging the same reasons for this practice that are elsewhere given for sending young persons to public executions. The impression they make upon the young people is so lively and durable, that, notwithstanding they have none of those prejudices, which are kept up in Roman Catholic countries by the belief of purgatory, and several stories relative to that article, there are few nations, which, without believing in apparitions in theory, are really more afraid of them in practice.

What struck me about this last bit was that in 1765 the English still saw the point of tragedy as essentially moral. Plays had a purpose, and that purpose was to teach you not to be bad by showing rotters getting their comeuppance. It's exactly the same idea that Sidney had put down a couple of centuries before:

The high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours

Though Oscar Wilde put it more succinctly:

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

These days, when presented with the choice between pity and terror, we usually choose the former. A tragedy is about a blameless chap who gets cancer, or a little kitten that strays too close to the kebab van.

We still like our criminals, but Tony Soprano doesn't get killed. So there is no terror, and the old idea of tragedy is only half there. Tragedy is now as much a stranger to crime as the English are to soup.

Means nothing to me

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Montivagant and Abominable

Montivagant means wandering over the mountains, it's therefore a terribly useful word for describing weekends in Snowdonia, the commute of a yeti, or the possible location of Osama Bin Laden.

Hmm. That, dear reader, has made me go and look up yeti to see what it actually means. Apparently, it's Tibetan yeh-teh meaning little manlike animal. I know that sounds like a lot to get into two syllables but it's probably something like mannikin. I don't know. I don't speak Tibetan, and the way things are going I probably never will.

What really surprised me was that they were little, but the OED insists on it and quotes Sherpa Tensing:

He describes it as half man half beast, about five feet six inches tall, covered with reddish-brown hair but with a hairless face.

Which is rather less impressive than I had imagined. I was at school with someone like that. The Tibetans also call them Meetoh Kangmi, which means Abominable Snowmen. This is a much older and much better name than the badly transliterated yeti. Abominable is such a lovely word: a bit religious and a bit old fashioned: like a communion wafer dipped in gentleman's relish.

Montivagant is obviously the cousin of noctivagant, omnivagant and extravagant, on all of which I have posted before.

The Inky Fool ascending to Humanities 2

Monday 11 April 2011


Just one more.

A honeymoon is so-called because the honey-sweet and mellifluous part of a marriage is traditionally meant to last for one month, after which it all goes to pot in a handcart. As Huloet put it in his bestselling Abecedarium Anglico Latinum:

Hony mone, a terme prouerbially applied to such as be newe maried, whiche wyll not fall out at the fyrste, but thone loueth the other at the beginnynge excedyngly, the likelyhode of theyr exceadynge loue appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people cal the hony mone*.

The OED's first citation for honeymoon comes from Heywood's Proverbs (1546) and it rather charmed me because it is, I assume accidentally, a perfect acephalous iambic tetrameter or POM-dee-POM-dee-POM-dee-POM, which is my favourite verse form.

It was yet but honeymoon

Last week's post on verse form produced such fine results that I shall invite you, dear reader, to turn that into the first line of a quatrain, and slip the result gently into the comments section.

P.S. If you trying to remember where you've heard of the Abecedarium Anlglico Latinum before, it was the source of my post on the word wamblecropt.

*However, there are folk remedies involving the hide of a waterbuffalo.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Bonny and Buxom

One final post on weddings. In Medieval wedding services the wife would promise the following:

I take thee, John, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, to be bonny and buxom, in bed and at board, till death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Now, this seems to our modern eyes to be a strange sort of promise. How could a wife guarantee that she would be buxom? Were thin women unable to marry in church? However, the word buxom has changed in meaning over the years. The first citation of buxom in the OED comes from the twelfth century and is defined as: Obedient; pliant; compliant, tractable. The sense then changed to happy, then to healthy, and thence to plump.

Meanwhile bonny comes from the French bon and the Latin bonus, both of which mean good. So a bonny and buxom wife was a good and obedient one, which is why it was eventually replaced by loving, honouring and obeying. There's even a sixteenth century reference to being "bonnaire and buxome to the Pope".

Anyway, this form of the service is still occasionally used. There's a story about it here.

Friday 8 April 2011

Marriage Music

Marriage music was an old slang term for a baby's crying.

That is all.

I can't remember precisely, but the empty shoes in this have some utterly obscene symbolism.

Thursday 7 April 2011


This is a repost from last year, but it's strangely appropriate.

Fangast means fit for marriage. It's an utterly obsolete bit of Norfolk dialect whose origins are chronically befogged. Nobody knows the word any more and for that reason it could be terribly useful. Suppose that your girlfriend* were to discover that you had drawn up a table of all your female acquaintances and next to each name had written "marriage material" or "not marriage material", she'd flip her proverbial lid. But "fangast" and "not fangast" - unless she's a time-traveller from ancient Norfolk you're in the clear.

If just one other friend knows the word then the two of you can discuss whether somebody is fangast in front of their face with no danger of discovery: "Have you met my new girlfriend? She's so pretty, and not at all fangast."
"Nothing, darling, nothing."

Incidentally, the earliest reference to the word fangast is by the Inky Fool's favourite essayist, Thomas Browne.


*Or boyfriend, mistress, sugar-daddy, insignificant other, bearded-lady etc et bloody c.

Wednesday 6 April 2011


I've been having great fun since I bought myself A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew in its Several Tribes of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, &c. It was written in 1699, or thereabouts, by somebody who styled himself B.E. Gent., and it's pretty much the first dictionary of English slang.

Some of the words are surprisingly familiar: a nickum-poop, a num-skul and an oaf are all words with which I have been familiar since I started abusing my companions in the first bloom of my youthful nastiness. I'm glad that even then, in that rainy, tarmacced playground I was using words that were three centuries old.

Some words though have unaccountably vanished. A few entries below pimp (which was, even then, the same as a Cock-bawd) is a Pimginnit which is defined as a large, red, angry Pimple.

What a word! In the second bloom of my youthful nastiness I had hundreds of pimginnits and never knew what to call them. There's something very pimply about the word too. I imagine that if I were to mention that someone had a face filled with pimginnits, my interlocutor would understand me without needing recourse to a dictionary of 1699.

I must change my chat-up line

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Square Poems

Only Lewis Carroll would think of writing this:

I've been trying to come up with my own version and it's a lot harder than one might think. It's impossible to prove linguistically, but I imagine that the complication increases exponentially with the number of words in the square. There will be an imaginary prize for anyone who can post one in the comments.

I am
Am I?

She has eyes
Has she sense
Eyes sense me

I suppose I have a blog
Suppose I should
I should

Damn. And he made it rhyme.

Clever clogs

Monday 4 April 2011


His chilly lips hard closing at the sight,
His every member grueing with delight,
At once by tokens manifest he spies
That they are here,

I thought you'd like a little bit of Hartley Coleridge's translation of Statius, it being Monday and all. Not that it's a good poem or anything like that, but it does contain a very late (1847) instance of the verb grue. Grue meant shudder and people used to grue a lot back in the Middle Ages, especially if they were Scottish or Northern. Indeed, most examples of the word grue are taken from incomprehensibly Scottish historical texts, which is why I chose Coleridge.

Modern Southerners never grue. In fact, modern Southerners are so damned tough that most of us don't even know the meaning of the word grue, which is odd as we all know the meaning of the word gruesome.

For more fun with fossil words like gormless, feckless, ruthless and reckless, click here.

Sunday 3 April 2011

The Literary Boot

I said a few weeks ago that I'd be putting up poems that were hung on the walls of pubs, and I found a bit of verse in the Boot in Bloomsbury. The Boot has already achieved literary immortality as Dickens put it into Barnaby Rudge:

This Boot was a lone house of public entertainment, situated in the fields at the back of the Foundling Hospital; a very solitary spot at that period, and quite deserted after dark. The tavern stood at some distance from any high road, and was approachable only by a dark and narrow lane; so that Hugh was much surprised to find several people drinking there, and great merriment going on. He was still more surprised to find among them almost every face that had caught his attention in the crowd; but his companion having whispered him outside the door, that it was not considered good manners at The Boot to appear at all curious about the company, he kept his own counsel, and made no show of recognition.

Nothing whatsoever has changed, although there are now many more buildings around and about, and what the pub lacks in salubriousness it makes up for in proximity to the British Library*. Anyway, up on the wall they had a framed poem by a chap called Herbert Wilkes, of whom I can find no trace on the Internet. As it's a little hard to read from my photograph, I've copied out the poem. Essentially, he's just trying to work lots of pub names into rhyme. It's not a good poem, exactly, but it is fun. Incidentally, pub names are always things that you can paint pictures of, because in preliterate England people would meet at the sign of the red lion/unicorn/mitre et cetera, and recognise it by the picture hanging outside.

A Run Across the Signs

There's my Black horse he'll face the Lion
And make the Bay horse fly
He'll turn the Wheat Sheaf upside down
And drink the Fountain dry

He'll leave a mark upon the Fleece
Take shine out of the Star
And make King William sue for peace
Before the Castle bar

He'll crush the Midland on his tour
And make the Shepherd scream
Despatch Commercials any hour
To Devonshire for cream

He'll twist the Cross Keys out of shape
And fill the Nag with dread
The Albion shall not escape
The Hart must lose it's head

He'll make the New Ship spring a leak
Give Craven Arms a jerk
And make the Kings afraid to speak
When Joiners are at work

He'll straighten up the Rose and Crown
The Royal Oak must fall
He'll knock the Cock and Bottle down
And close the Hole in t'Wall

He'll slip the Thanet's down a nick
And make the Heifer grin
Then cater off and throw the Brick
Beyond the Railway Inn

He'll make the Craven look forlorn
And strain Old George's hip
Destroy the boasting Unicorn
And the upset the Ship

He'll make the White Horse scrape and bow
The Jolly Sailors fight
The Mason's Arms will strike a blow
Before the Sun is bright

He'll trample on the Woodman's scone
T'Black Bull will turn away
And flight alone will save the Swan
Before he meets his day

*Down Judd Street and off to the left.

Friday 1 April 2011

Apus Regalus

Just as July was named after Julius Caesar and August was named for Augustus, so April used to be called Claudius, for the famous dribbling emperor.

However, Claudius rather blotted his copy-book by crucifying a chap called Jesus of Nazareth. (Not personally, you understand, but he was emperor at the time). So when the Roman Empire had turned to Christianity and moved to Constantinople they decided to do away with the poor old month of Claudius and instead call it the Mensis Salvatoris de Christi in Excelsior, which thankfully didn't catch on.

Instead, the month was named for the ancient tradition of Apus Regalus, or the Kingly Ape, which had existed in the kingdom of Pontus prior to the Roman invasion. Choroides puts it best in his second century classic Geographies:

And in the Kingdom of Pontus they would, at that time, hold the ceremony of the Kingly Ape, which was a monkey that was given a crown of pure gold upon his head. Then each citizen of the place, both man and woman, would arm himself with a feather and all would pursue that monkey attempting to touch it's belly with the feather. It was said that if a citizen could make the monkey laugh by stroking its belly in this way, he would be given a position of great power within the state for the space of a year. But this was seldom or never achieved for the monkey would escape over the roofs and vanish with its golden crown.

Right, I've got my feather, I've got my crown, and I'm off to London Zoo.

Security had better be good.