Wednesday 27 July 2011

Fanfreluching, Biscoting and Synonymia

Way back in the mists and fogs of time, (before standardisation of measurement) weights and distances and everything else would vary from country to country. For example, the leagues around Paris, which were marked by stones at the roadside, were much shorter than those everywhere else. Rabelais (C16th) had an ingenious explanation for this and I'm going to reproduce the whole thing here, simply because of the extraordinary words that were invented by the (C17th) translator, Thomas Urquhart. I shall put them in bold, just for fun. old times countries were not distinguished into leagues, miles, furlongs, nor parasangs, until that King Pharamond divided them, which was done in manner as followeth. The said king chose at Paris a hundred fair, gallant, lusty, brisk young men, all resolute and bold adventurers in Cupid's duels, together with a hundred comely, pretty, handsome, lovely and well-complexioned wenches of Picardy, all which he caused to be well entertained and highly fed for the space of eight days. Then having called for them, he delivered to every one of the young men his wench, with store of money to defray their charges, and this injunction besides, to go unto divers places here and there. And wheresoever they should biscot and thrum their wenches, that, they setting a stone there, it should be accounted for a league. Thus went away those brave fellows and sprightly blades most merrily, and because they were fresh and had been at rest, they very often jummed and fanfreluched almost at every field's end, and this is the cause why the leagues about Paris are so short. But when they had gone a great way, and were now as weary as poor devils, all the oil in their lamps being almost spent, they did not chink and duffle so often, but contented themselves (I mean for the men's part) with one scurvy paltry bout in a day, and this is that which makes the leagues in Brittany, Delanes, Germany, and other more remote countries so long.

I'm quite sure that you can guess at the meanings as efficiently as the OED does. What I particularly love in this passage is that the saucy and preposterous verbs are all presented in pairs, and that the second verb of each adds nothing significant to the meaning. Chinking and duffling are, I assume, pretty much the same thing. This rhetorical figure, called synonymia, is very beautiful if used sparsely and sparely.

Synonymia is also used on the nouns of the passage: "brave fellows and sprightly blades" and "as weary as poor devils, all the oil in their lamps being almost spent".

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some important fanfreluching to attend to. I may even attempt to biscot a biscuit.

There was a French-Canadian children's programme called Fanfreluche.
Don't ask me why.

1 comment:

  1. My thrumming days are over, I'd be glad of one scurvy paltry bout in a day.