Monday 10 September 2012

Sulking in the Boudoir

A repost, as I still can't type.

A lady's boudoir is where she sulks.

Once upon a time there was a French word bouder meaning to sulk or pout and boudoir is simply the sulk-room, like a panic-room but much moodier.

Bouder is probably imitative of puffing your cheeks out, because melancholy is so often accompanied by windy suspirations of forced breath. In exasperation you puff out your cheeks, then you blow the air outwards, perhaps biting your lower lip and making an ffff sound. The whole sound could be transcribed as huff, hence being in a huff.

The first ever person to be tetchy was Juliet (as in Romeo). Her wet nurse decided to wean Juliet by putting wormwood oil on her breast. Wormwood is one of the bitterest tastes in the world and the poor baby did not like it:

For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall;
My lord and you were then at Mantua:--
Nay, I do bear a brain:--but, as I said,
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!

Incidentally, wormwood has nothing to do with either worms or wood. If you put wormwood into alcohol a chemical called thujone is released which is a rather effective painkiller. The old Germans referred to it as man-courage or wer-mut. Wer was man - as in werewolf or man-wolf - and mut was courage as in modern English mood.

The Inky Fool throws a party


  1. isn't wormwood the active ingredient of Absinthe?

    1. It's in absinthe, but I thought it was more a flavouring. I think the active ingredient is plain old alcohol.

  2. Wormwood alters alcohol in both vermouth (wer-mut) and absinthe (Artemisia absinthium).

  3. I thought it was the stimulant qualities rather than painkilling that gave wormwood its moody name. Purl and purl royal (beer and wine infused with wormwood, respectively) were used much as coffee is now, for waking up and getting going but also to sharpen appetite.

  4. Does the use of wormwood in this context have any bearing on the part of London with its infamous gaol?

  5. I would have thought so, Artemisia species are generally found in bare areas, from local wasteground to coastal and alpine habitats.

    Absinthe makes the heart grow stronger.....

    Laurie -

  6. Laurie, you're right in general, but this particular wormwood comes from wyrm meaning snake.