Thursday 29 November 2012

Bath and Wanstead Library

Shakespeare went to Bath. He wrote a sonnet about it. You see, people used to go to Bath because the warm waters there were considered medicinal. Shakespeare also explains why they're warm.

Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep: 
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground; 
Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love 
A dateless lively heat, still to endure, 
And grew a seething Bath, which yet men prove 
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure. 
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired, 
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast; 
I, sick withal, the help of Bath desired, 
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest, 
   But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
   Where Cupid got new fire - my mistress' eyes.

But I'm going to Bath to do a talk and a reading at Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, tonight at seven. And then tomorrow I'm off to Wanstead library for a fantastic event organised by Newham Books.

Ain't no cure for love.

There's another old post I did about Bath poetry here. 

Wednesday 28 November 2012


I was idly leafing through The Dialect of South Lancashire, or Tim Bobbin's Tummus and Meary (1850), when I came across Suss-middin which is, apparently:

Suss-middin A lazy woman, too idle to move from her seat.

Aside from the woman bit, that's me; except that I'm off to talk at Cheltenham Waterstones tonight and at Mr B's Emporium in Bath tomorrow. Must dash.

Monday 26 November 2012

More Britishisms

Just a link today, becauseI'm lazy. Here's an article from the New York Times on the relentless infiltration of Britishisms into the American language. The main reason that I find such articles interesting is that there are a lot of words that I didn't realise were peculiar to English. It's jolly rum.

P.S. I'll be in the Steyning Bookshop in West Sussex for a talk tomorrow at 7:30, and then off to Cheltenham and Bath.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Counting on the Race Course

I'll be talking in Blackwells Newcastle today at six, and Blackwells Edinburgh tomorrow at six thirty. Also, The Horologicon has just been voted the Alternative Christmas Bestseller by independent bookshops. Here's a Telegraph article about it.

I have been learning the language of bookmakers, from a bookie. Well, to be honest, I've only been learning to count to ten. It's a curious counting system, which has a fair amount of backslang. Backslang is the old Victorian underworld system of slang that gave us the yob, or backwards boy. You get this with ruof, xis, neves and possibly tee aitch. Then there's the rhyming slang of cock and hen for ten. One is taken directly from the semaphore system used on the race course and actually said aloud as "top of the head", which seems rather cumbersome. And my informant has no idea about bottle or carpet.

1 Top of the head
2 A bottle
3 Carpet
4 Ruof (pronounced rough)
5 Handful
6 Xis (pronounced exes)
7 Neves (pronounced nevers)
8 Tee Aitch (presumably back-slang from eight or THgie)
9 Nines
10 Cock and hen

The reason I note all this down is that, apparently, the language is dying. Moreover, it doesn't seem to have made it into the OED, with the exception of Neves, which is defined as obsolete criminal slang.

The Inky Fool was sure of backing a winner

Monday 19 November 2012


I'm off to Leeds today to give a talk at Waterstones at 7pm. This will give me a wonderful chance to hurple. Hurple's a strange verb that I found in an 1862 glossary of Leeds dialect, where it's defined thuslyly:

Hurple To shrug up the neck and creep along the streets with a shivering sensation of cold, as an ill-clad person may do on a winter’s morning. ‘Goas hurpling abart fit to give a body t’dithers to luke at him!’

And tomorrow I shall be in Durham doing the same thing, then it's Newcastle on Wednesday and Edinburgh on Thursday. Hurpling all the way.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Loose Ends

I know. I'm sorry. I didn't post on Friday. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It's the perils of a book tour. However, to half make up for it, I was on Loose Ends on Radio 4 today and so, if you like the sound of my horrid voice, you can listen to me being interviewed by the fragrant Emma Freud. I'll put up the iPlayer link when it's up.

And here it is!

I should also, in a fit of logrolling, note that both The Staves and Cerys Matthews are wonderful.

A typical day at Radio 4.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Commodities, Accommodation and Commodes

I'll be talking in Blackwells Oxford this evening and in Heffers Cambridge tomorrow. Now read on...

Whilst sitting upon the commode and contemplating the commodities market, you may be struck by the line from the Four Quartets:

The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie
A dignified and commodious sacrament
Two and two, necessarye coniunction
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde.*

And wonder what all the accommodation is doing. The answer is that once upon a long time ago there was a Latin word commodus, which meant suitable or perhaps convenient. Therefore if you find an object (such as loo roll) that is useful and convenient for you, it is a commodity. Likewise, if you devote yourself to another's convenience (in the non-lavatorial sense) you are being accommodating. Likewise if something is beneficial and apt, it is commodious, as in the sacrament of marriage.

Likewise, what is sometimes called a convenience could also be called a commode. As King Lear puts it:

Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on's are sophisticated! Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal as thou art. 

And here's a photo I took the other day:

*As I recall this is all quoting Julius of Norwich, but I can't find it at the moment.

Monday 12 November 2012

Abingdon, Oxford, Cambridge and Ely


This week I shall be scurrying around the near South of England giving amusing and almost informative talks at lots of beautiful bookshops. These shall be:

Mostly Books in Abingdon on Tuesday night at 7:30.

Blackwells in Oxford on Wednesday at 7:00.

Heffers in Cambridge on Thursday at 6:30.

And whilst we're on the subject of Cambridge, here is an entry from a dictionary of C18th slang that is included in The Horologicon:

To Cut

(Cambridge.) To renounce acquaintance with any one is to cut him. There are several species of the cut. Such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, &c. The cut direct, is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person in order to avoid him. The cut indirect, is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime, is to admire the top of King’s College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, till he is out of sight. The cut infernal, is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose.

And finally Topping Books in Ely on Friday at 7:00. 

Ely has a claim to being one of the greatest places in the English language for reasons to do with sex and monks.

Bad habits

Friday 9 November 2012

Taunton and Bristol

I'm off to Taunton today to do an event at Brendon Books this evening at 7pm. More info here. Then tomorrow I'm at the Blackwells on Park Street in Bristol for 7pm. Now I must dash, as I have to pack.

Next week it's the three great universities: Abingdon, Oxford and Cambridge.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Blessed, Handsome and Crooked Presidents

As some sort of event has just happened in the United States of America, I should remind you that Barack is Swahili for blessed, that Hussein is Arabic for handsome, and that Obama is Dholuo for crooked. This means that, etymologically speaking, Barack Hussein Obama is Blessed, Handsome and Crooked. Mind you, as my first name means God of War (from Mars), I'm not sure you can read too much into a name.

Anyway, these days he's addressed as Mr President. So here, though I've posted it before, is me doing a Ted Talk on the word president.

I should point out that I said 1771 instead of 1789. The perils of speaking without notes.

Monday 5 November 2012


Do you see that thing just to the right? Do you? Where it says 'Read the Horologicon'. That thing, just beneath it is a widget and, if you click upon it, you will be able to read the first thirty pages of The Horologicon for free. Thus you will discover lovely words like expurgefactor, zwodder and grufeling, which is defined in Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) thus:

To be grufeling: To lie close wrapped up, and in a comfortable-looking manner; used in ridicule.

Nothing ridiculous about that.

Thursday 1 November 2012

The Horologicon is Out Today

It it is published (from publicare to make public)! It is launched (from lanceare to throw a lance)! It is in the shops! Rush out and buy it this very second. Find your nearest bibliopole (which is an old term for a bookseller) and demand a copy of The Horologicon. You will be given a book with a beautiful blue cover and will then be able to thank the bibliopole bibliopolistically (or in a manner befitting a bookseller).

Or you can order it over the dear old Internet from Amazon, Blackwells, The Book Depository, Foyles and Waterstones.

Moreover, you can read the last section of The Daily Mail's serialisation here.

Go litel bok, go.

The Inky Fool is launched in style