Society for Pure English, Tract 5
Society for Pure English
Produced by David Starner, David Garcia and the Online Distributed
_TRACT No. V_
THE ENGLISHING OF FRENCH WORDS
By Brander Matthews
THE DIALECTAL WORDS IN BLUNDEN'S POEMS
etc. by Robert Bridges
_At the Clarendon Press_ MDCCCCXXI
FRENCH WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
The English language is an Inn of Strange Meetings where all sorts and
conditions of words are assembled. Some are of the bluest blood and of
authentic royal descent; and some are children of the gutter not wise
enough to know their own fathers. Some are natives whose ancestors were
rooted in the soil since a day whereof the memory of man runneth not to
the contrary; and some are strangers of outlandish origin, coming to us
from all the shores of all the Seven Seas either to tarry awhile and
then to depart for ever, unwelcome sojourners only, or to settle down
at last and found a family soon asserting equality with the oldest
inhabitants of the vocabulary. Seafaring terms came to us from
Scandinavia and from the Low Countries. Words of warfare on land crossed
the channel, in exchange for words of warfare at sea which migrated from
England to France. Dead tongues, Greek and Latin, have been revived to
replenish our verbal population with the terms needed for the sciences;
and Italy has sent us a host of words by the fine arts.
The stream of immigrants from the French language has been for almost a
thousand years larger than that from any other tongue; and even to-day
it shows little sign of lessening. Of all the strangers within our gates
none are more warmly received than those which come to us from across
the Straits of Dover. None are more swiftly able to make themselves
at home in our dictionaries and to pass themselves off as English.
At least, this was the case until comparatively recently, when the
process of adoption and assimilation became a little slower and more
than a little less satisfactory. Of late French words, even those long
domiciled in our lexicons, have been treated almost as if they were
still aliens, as if they were here on sufferance, so to speak, as if
they had not become members of the commonwealth. They were allowed to
work, no doubt, and sometimes even to be overworked; but they laboured
as foreigners, perhaps even more eagerly employed by the snobbish
because they were foreigners and yet held in disrepute by the more
fastidious because they were not truly English. That is to say, French
words are still as hospitably greeted as ever before, but they are now
often ranked as guests only and not as members of the household.
Perhaps this may seem to some a too fanciful presentation of the case.
Perhaps it would be simpler to say that until comparatively recently a
foreign word taken over into English was made over into an English word,
whereas in the past two or three centuries there has been an evident
tendency to keep it French and to use it freely while retaining its
French pronunciation, its French accents, its French spelling, and its
French plural. This tendency is contrary to the former habits of our
language. It is dangerous to the purity of English. It forces itself
on our attention and it demands serious consideration.
In his brief critical biography of Rutebeuf, M. Cledat pointed out that
for long years the only important literature in Europe was the French,
and that the French language had on three several occasions almost
established itself as the language of European civilization--once in the
thirteenth century, again in the seventeenth, and finally when Napoleon
had made himself temporarily master of the Continent. The earlier
universities of Europe were modelled on that of Paris, where Dante had
gone to study. Frederick the Great despised his native tongue, spoke it
imperfectly, and wrote his unnecessary verses in French. Even now French
is only at last losing its status as the accredited tongue of diplomacy.
The French made their language in their own image; and it is therefore
logical, orderly, and clear. Sainte-Beuve declared that a 'philosophical
thought has probably not attained all its sharpness and all its
illumination until it is expressed in French'. As the French are noted
rather for their intelligence than for their imagination, they are the
acknowledged masters of prose; and their achievement in poetry is more
disputable. As they are governed by the social instinct, their language
exhibits the varied refinements of a cultivated society where
conversation is held in honour as one of the arts. The English speech,
like the English-speaking peoples, is bolder, more energetic, more
suggestive, and perhaps less precise. From no language could English
borrow with more profit to itself than from French; and from no language
has it borrowed more abundantly and more persistently. Many of the
English words which we can trace to Latin and through Latin to Greek,
came to us, not direct from Rome and Athens, but indirectly from Paris.
And native French words attain international acceptance almost as easily
as do scientific compounds from Greek and Latin. _Phonograph_ and
_telephone_ were not more swiftly taken up than _chassis_ and _garage_.
But _chassis_ and _garage_ still retain their French pronunciation, or
perhaps it would be better to say they still receive a pronunciation
which is as close an approximation to that of the French as our
unpractised tongues can compass. And in thus taking over these French
words while striving to preserve their Frenchiness, we are neglectful
of our duty, we are imperilling the purity of our own language, and we
are deserting the wholesome tradition of English--the tradition which
empowered us to take at our convenience but to refashion what we had
taken to suit our own linguistic habits.
'Speaking in general terms,' Mr. Pearsall Smith writes, in his outline
history of the English language, 'we may say that down to about 1650 the
French words that were borrowed were thoroughly naturalized in English,
and were made sooner or later to conform to the rules of English
pronunciation and accent; while in the later borrowings (unless they
have become very popular) an attempt is made to pronounce them in the
French fashion.' From Mr. Smith's pages it would be easy to select
examples of the complete assimilation which was attained centuries ago.
_Caitiff, canker_, and _carrion_ came to us from the Norman dialect of
French; and from their present appearance no one but a linguistic expert
would suspect their exotic ancestry, _Jury, larceny, lease, embezzle,
distress,_ and _improve_ have descended from the jargon of the lawyers
who went on thinking in French after they were supposed to be speaking
and writing in English. Of equal historical significance are the two
series of words which English acquired from the military vocabulary
of the French,--the first containing _company, regiment, battalion,
brigade, division_, and _army_; and the second consisting of _marshal,
general, colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant_, and _corporal_.
(Here I claim the privilege of a parenthesis to remark that in Great
Britain _lieutenant_ is generally pronounced _leftenant_, than which no
anglicization could be more complete, whereas in the United States this
officer is called the _lootenant_, which the privates of the American
Expeditionary Force in France habitually shortened to '_loot_'--except,
of course, when they were actually addressing this superior. It may be
useful to note, moreover, that while 'colonel' has chosen the spelling
of one French form, it has acquired the pronunciation of another.)
Dr. Henry Bradley in the _Making of English_ provides further evidence
of the aforetime primacy of the French in the military art. '_War_
itself is a Norman-French word, and among the other French words
belonging to the same department which became English before the end of
the thirteenth century' are _armour, assault, banner, battle, fortress,
lance, siege, standard_, and _tower_--all of them made citizens of our
vocabulary, after having renounced their allegiance to their native
land. Another quotation from Dr. Bradley imposes itself. He tells us
that the English writers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries felt
themselves at liberty to introduce a French word whenever they pleased.
'The innumerable words brought into the language in this way are
naturally of the most varied character with regard to meaning. Many of
them, which supplied no permanent need of the language, have long been
This second sentence may well give us heart of hope considering the
horde of French terms which invaded our tongue in the long years of the
Great War. If _camion_ and _avion, vrille_ and _escadrille_ supply no
permanent need of the language they may soon become obsolete, just as
_mitrailleuse_ and _franc-tireur_ slipped out of sight soon after the
end of the Franco-Prussian war of fifty years ago. A French modification
of the American 'gatling' was by them called a _mitrailleuse_;
and nowadays we have settled down to the use of _machine-gun_.
A _franc-tireur_ was an irregular volunteer often incompletely
uniformed; and when he was captured the Prussians shot him as a
guerrilla. It will be a welcome relief if _camouflage_, as popular five
years ago as _fin-de-siecle_ twenty-five years ago, shall follow that
now unfashionable vocable into what an American president once described
as 'innocuous desuetude'. Perhaps we may liken _mitrailleuse_ and
_franc-tireur, vrille_ and _escadrille, brisance_ and _rafale_, to the
foreign labourers who cross the frontier to aid in the harvest and who
return to their own country when the demand for their service is over.
The principle which ought to govern can be stated simply. English
should be at liberty to help itself freely to every foreign word which
seems to fill a want in our own language. It ought to take these words
on probation, so to speak, keeping those which prove themselves useful,
and casting out those which are idle or rebellious. And then those which
are retained ought to become completely English, in pronunciation, in
accent, in spelling, and in the formation of their plurals. No doubt
this is to-day a counsel of perfection; but it indicates the goal which
should be strived for. It is what English was capable of accomplishing
prior to the middle of the seventeenth century. It is what English may
be able to accomplish in the middle of the twentieth century, if we once
awaken to the danger of contaminating our speech with unassimilated
words, and to the disgrace, which our stupidity or laziness must bring
upon us, of addressing the world in a pudding-stone and piebald
language. Dr. Bradley has warned us that 'the pedantry that would bid
us reject the word fittest for our purpose because it is not of native
origin ought to be strenuously resisted'; and I am sure that he would
advocate an equally strenuous resistance to the pedantry which would
impose upon us words of alien tongue still clad in foreign uniform.
Mark Twain once remarked that 'everybody talks about the weather and
nobody does anything about it'. And many people think that we might as
well hope to direct the course of the winds as to order the evolution
of our speech. Some words have proved intractable. In the course of the
past two centuries and a half, scores and even hundreds of French words
have domiciled themselves in English without relinquishing their French
characteristics. Consider the sad case of _elite_ (which Byron used a
hundred years ago), of _encore_ (which Steele used two hundred years
ago) of _parvenu_ (which Gifford used in 1802), of _ennui_ (which
Evelyn used in 1667), and of _nuance_ (which Walpole used in 1781).
No one hesitates to accept these words and to employ them frequently.
_Ennui_ and _nuance_ are two words which cannot well be spared, but
which we are unable to reproduce in our native vocalization. Their
French pronunciation is out of the question. What can be done? Can
anything be done? We may at least look the facts in the face and govern
our own individual conduct by the results of this scrutiny. There is no
reason why we should not accept what is a fact; and it is a fact that
_ennui_ has been adopted. So long ago as 1805 Sidney Smith used it as a
verb and said that he had been _ennuied_. Why not therefore frankly and
boldly pronounce it as English--_ennwee_? Why not forswear French again
and pronounce _nuance_ without trying vainly to preserve the Gallic
nasality of the second n--_newance_? And as for a third necessary word,
_timbre_. I can only register here my complete concurrence with the
opinion expressed in Tract No. 3 of the Society for Pure English--that
the 'English form of the French sound of the word would be approximately
_tamber_; and this would be not only a good English-sounding word, like
_amber_ and _chamber_, but would be like our _tambour_, which is
_tympanum_, which again is _timbre_'.
Why should not _seance_ (which was used by Charles Lamb in 1803)
drop its French accent and take an English pronunciation--_see-ance_?
Why should not _garage_ and _barrage_ rhyme easily with _marriage_?
_Marriage_ itself came to us from the French; and it sets a good example
to these two latest importations. Logic would suggest this, of course;
but then logic does not always guide our linguistic practices. And here,
again, I am glad to accept another suggestion which I find in Tract No.
3, that _naivety_ be recognized and pronounced as an English word, and
that 'a useful word like _malaise_ could with advantage reassume the
old form "malease" which it once possessed'.
I have asked why these thoroughly acclimated French words should not
be made to wear our English livery; and to this question Dr. Bradley
supplied an answer when he declared that 'culture is one of the
influences which retard the process of simplification'. A man of culture
is likely to be familiar with one or more foreign languages; and perhaps
he may be a little vain of his intimacy with them. He prefers to give
the proper French pronunciation to the words which he recognizes as
French; and moreover as the possession of culture, or even of education,
does not imply any knowledge of the history of English or of the
principles which govern its growth, the men of culture are often
inclined to pride themselves on this pedantic procedure.
It is, perhaps, because the men of culture in the United States are
fewer in proportion to the population that American usage is a little
more encouraging than the British. Just as we Americans have kept alive
not a few old words which have been allowed to drop out of the later
vocabulary of the United Kingdom, so we have kept alive--at least to a
certain extent--the power of complete assimilation. _Restaurant_, for
example, is generally pronounced as though its second syllable rhymed
with 'law', and its third with 'pant'. _Trait_ is pronounced in
accordance with its English spelling, and therefore very few Americans
have ever discovered the pun in the title of Dr. Doran's book, 'Table
Traits, and something on them'. I think that most Americans rhyme
_distrait_ to 'straight' and not to 'stray'. _Annexe_ has become
_annex_; _programme_ has become _program_--although the longer form
is still occasionally seen; and sometimes _coterie_ and _reverie_ are
'cotery' and 'revery'--in accord with the principle which long ago
simplified _phantasie_ to _fantasy_. _Charade_ like _marmalade_ rhymes
with _made_. _Brusk_ seems to be supplanting _brusque_ as _risky_ is
supplanting _risque_. _Elite_ is spelt without the accent; and it is
frequently pronounced _ell-leet_. _Cloture_ is rarely to be discovered
in American newspapers; _closure_ is not uncommon; but the term commonly
employed is the purely English 'previous question'.
In the final quarter of the nineteenth century an American adaptation of
a French comic opera, 'La Mascotte', was for two or three seasons very
popular. The heroine of its story was believed to have the gift of
bringing luck. So it is that Americans now call any animal which has
been adopted by a racing crew or by an athletic team (or even by a
regiment) a _mascot_; and probably not one in ten thousand of those who
use the word have any knowledge of its French origin, or any suspicion
that it was transformed from the title of a musical play.
I regret, however, to be forced to confess that I have lately been
shocked by a piece of petty pedantry which seems to show that we
Americans are falling from grace--at least so far as one word is
concerned. Probably because many of our architects and decorators have
studied in Paris there is a pernicious tendency to call a 'grill' a
_grille_. And I have seen with my own eyes, painted on a door in an
hotel _grille_-room; surely the ultimate abomination of verbal
I may, however, record to our credit one righteous act--the perfect
and satisfactory anglicizing of a Spanish word, whereby we have made
'canyon' out of _canon_. And I cannot forbear to adduce another word for
a fish soup, _chowder_, which the early settlers derived from the French
name of the pot in which it was cooked, _chaudiere_.
[Footnote 1: No doubt all these variations of American from British
usage will be duly discussed in Professor George Philip Krapp's
forthcoming _History of the English Language in America_.]
As the military vocabulary of English is testimony to the former
leadership of the French in the art of war, so the vocabulary of fashion
and of gastronomy is evidence of the cosmopolitan primacy of French
millinery and French cookery. But most of the military terms were
absorbed before the middle of the seventeenth century and were therefore
assimilated, whereas the terms of the French dressmaker and of the
French cook, chef, or _cordon bleu_, are being for ever multiplied in
France and are very rarely being naturalized in English-speaking lands.
So far as these two sets of words are concerned the case is probably
hopeless, because, if for no other reason, they are more or less in the
domain of the gentler sex and we all know that
'A woman, convinced against her will,
Is of the same opinion still.'
The terms of the motor-car, however, and those of the airplane, are in
the control of men; and there may be still a chance of bringing about a
better state of affairs than now exists. While the war correspondents
were actually in France, and while they were often forced to write at
topmost speed, there was excuse for _avion_ and _camion, vrille_ and
_escadrille_, and all the other French words which bespattered the
columns of British and American, Canadian and Australian newspapers.
I doubt if there was ever any necessity for _hangar_, the shed which
sheltered the airplane or the airship. _Hangar_ is simply the French
word for 'shed', no more and no less; it does not indicate specifically
a shed for a flying-machine; and as we already had 'shed' we need not
take over _hangar_.
When we turn from the gas-engine on wings to the gas-engine on wheels,
we find a heterogeny of words in use which bear witness to the fact that
the French were the first to develop the motor-car, and also to the
earlier fact that they had long been renowned for their taste and their
skill as coach-builders. As the terminology of the railway in England
is derived in part from that of the earlier stage-coach--in the United
States, I may interject, it was derived in part from that of the earlier
river-steamboat--so the terminology of the motor-car in France was
derived in part from that of the pleasure-carriage. So we have the
_landaulet_ and _limousine_ to designate different types of body.
I think _landaulet_ had already acquired an English pronunciation; at
least I infer this because I cannot now recall that I ever heard it fall
from the lips of an English-speaking person with its original French
pronunciation of the nasal _n_. And _limousine_, being without accent
and without nasal _n_ can be trusted to take care of itself.
There are other technical terms of the motor-car industry which present
more difficult problems. _Tonneau_ is not troublesome, even if its
spelling is awkward. There is _chauffeur_ first of all; and I wish that
it might generally acquire the local pronunciation it is said to have in
Norfolk--_shover_. Then there is _chassis_. Is this the exact equivalent
of 'running gear'? Is there any available substitute for the French
word? And if _chassis_ is to impose itself from sheer necessity what
is to be done with it? Our forefathers boldly cut down _chaise_ to
'shay'--at least my forefathers did it in New England, long before
Oliver Wendell Holmes commemorated their victory over the alien in the
'Deacon's Masterpiece', more popularly known as the 'One Horse Shay'.
And the men of old were even bolder when they curtailed _cabriolet_ to
'cab', just as their children have more recently and with equal courage
shortened 'taximeter vehicle' to 'taxi', and 'automobile' itself to
'auto'. Unfortunately it is not possible to cut the tail off _chassis_,
or even to cut the head off, as the men of old did with 'wig',
originally 'periwig', which was itself only a daring and summary
anglicization of _peruke_.
Due to the fact that the drama has been more continuously alive in the
literature of France than in that of any other country, and due also,
it may be, to the associated fact that the French have been more loyally
devoted to the theatre than any other people, the vocabulary of the
English-speaking stage has probably more unassimilated French words than
we can discover in the vocabulary of any of our other activities. We are
none of us surprised when we find in our newspaper criticisms _artiste,
ballet, conservatoire, comedienne, costumier, danseuse, debut,
denoument, diseuse, encore, ingenue, mise-en-scene, perruquier,
pianiste, premiere, repertoire, revue, role, tragedienne_--the catalogue
stretches out to the crack of doom.
Long as the list is, the words on it demand discussion. As to _role_ I
need say nothing since it has been considered carefully in Tract No. 3;
I may merely mention that it appeared in English at least as early as
1606, so that it has had three centuries to make itself at home in our
tongue. _Conservatoire_ and _repertoire_ have seemingly driven out the
English words, which were long ago made out of them, 'conservatory'
and 'repertory'. What is the accepted pronunciation of _ballet_? Is it
_bal-lett_ or _ballay_ or _bally_? (If it is _bally_, it has a recently
invented cockney homophone.) For _costumier_ and _perruquier_ I can see
no excuse whatever; although I have observed them frequently on London
play-bills, I am delighted to be able to say that they do not disgrace
the New York programmes, which mention the 'costumer' and the
'wigmaker'. 'Encore' was used by Steele in 1712; it was early made into
an English verb; and yet I have heard the verb pronounced with the nasal
_n_ of the original French. Here is another instance of English taking
over a French word and giving it a meaning not acceptable in Paris,
where the playgoers do not _encore_, they _bis_.
Why should we call a nondescript medley of dialogue and dance and
song a _revue_, when _revue_ in French is the exact equivalent of
'review' in English? Why should we call an actress of comic characters
a _comedienne_ and an actress of tragic characters a _tragedienne_,
when we do not call a comic actor a _comedien_ or a tragic actor a
_tragedien_? Possibly it is because 'comedian' and 'tragedian' seem
to be too exclusively masculine--so that a want is felt for words to
indicate a female tragedian and a female comedian. Probably it is for
the same reason that a male dancer is not termed a _danseur_ while
a female dancer is termed a _danseuse_. Then there is _diseuse_,
apparently reserved for the lady who recites verse, no name being
needed apparently for the gentleman who recites verse--at least, I am
reasonably certain that I have never seen _diseur_ applied to any male
_Mise-en-scene_ is another of the French terms which has suffered a
Channel-change. In Paris it means the arrangement of the stage-business,
whereas in London and in New York it is employed rather to indicate the
elaboration of the scenery and of the spectacular accessories. An even
more extraordinary misadventure has befallen _pianiste_, in that it is
sometimes used as if it was to be applied only to a female performer.
And this blunder is of long standing; but I remember as lately as forty
years ago seeing an American advertisement of Teresa Carreno which
proclaimed her to be 'the greatest living _lady_ pianiste'. I have
also detected evidences of a startling belief of the illiterate that
_artiste_ is the feminine of 'artist'. Nevertheless I found recently in
a volume caricaturing the chief performers of the London music-halls a
foot-note which explained that these celebrities were therein entitled
_artistes_--because 'an artist creates, an _artiste_ performs'.
Still to be analysed are _premiere_ for 'first performance' or 'opening
night' and _debut_ for 'first appearance'; and I fear that it is beyond
expectation that these alien words will speedily drop their alien
accents and their alien pronunciations. The same must be said also of
_denoument_ and of _ingenue_--French words which really fill a gap in
our vocabulary and which are none the less abhorrent to our speech
habits. The most that is likely to happen is that they may shed their
accents and more or less approximate an English pronunciation,
_dee-noo-meant_, perhaps, and _inn-je-new_, an approximation which will
be sternly resisted by the literate. I well remember one occasion when I
overheard scorn poured upon a charming American actress who had happened
to mention the date of her own _deb-you_ in New York.
_Encore_ and _mise-en-scene_ are only two of a dozen or a score of
French words not infrequently used in English and misused by being
charged with meanings not strictly in accord with French usage. 'Levee'
is one; the French say _lever_. _Nom de plume_ is another; the French
say _nom de guerre_. _Musicale_ also is rarely, if ever, to be found
in French, at least I believe it to be the custom in Paris to call
an 'evening with music' a _soiree musicale_. If _musicale_ is too
serviceable to demand banishment, why should it not drop the _e_ and
become _musical_? When Theodore Roosevelt, always as exact as he was
vigorous in his use of language, was President of the United States, the
cards of invitation which went out from the White House bore 'musical'
in one of their lower corners; so that the word, if not the King's
English, is the President's English.
To offset this I must record with regret that the late Clyde Fitch once
wrote a one-act play about a manicurist, and as this operator on the
finger-nails was a woman he entitled his playlet, the _Manicuriste_; and
he did this in spite of the fact that, as a writer fairly familiar with
French, he ought to have known the proper term--_manucure_.
Then there is _double-entendre_, implying a secondary meaning of
doubtful delicacy. Dryden used it in 1673, when it was apparently
good French, although it has latterly been superseded in France by
_double-entente_--which has not, however, the somewhat sinister
suggestion we attach to _double-entendre_. I noted it in Trench's
'Calderon' (in the 1880 reprint); and also in Thackeray; and both
Calderon and Thackeray were competent French scholars.
Perhaps this is as good a place as any to consider _nee_, put after the
name of a married woman and before the family name of her father. The
Germans have a corresponding usage, Frau Schmidt, _geboren_ Braun. There
is no doubt that _nee_ is convenient, and there is little doubt that
it would be difficult to persuade the men of culture to surrender it
or even to translate it. To the literate 'Mrs. Smith, born Brown',
might seem discourteously abrupt. But the French word is awkward,
nevertheless, since the illiterate often take it as meaning only
'formerly', writing 'Mrs. Smith, _nee_ Mary Brown', which implies that
this lady had been christened before she was born. And there is a tale
of a profiteer's wife who wrote herself down as 'Mrs. John Smith, New
York, _nee_ Chicago'.
Yet the French themselves are not always scrupulous to follow _nee_ with
only the family name of the lady. No less a scholar than Gaston Paris
dedicated his _Poetes et Penseurs_ to 'Madame James Darmesteter, _nee_
Mary Robinson'. Perhaps this is an instance of the modification of the
strict meaning of a word by convention because of its enlarged
usefulness when so modified.
Gaston Paris must be allowed all the rights and privileges of a master
of language; but his is a dangerous example for the unscholarly, who are
congenitally careless and who are responsible for _soubriquet_ instead
of _sobriquet_, for _a l'outrance_ instead of _a outrance_, and for _en
deshabille_ instead of _en deshabille_. The late Mrs. Oliphant in her
little book on Sheridan credited him with _gaiete du coeur_. It was
long an American habit to term a railway station a _depot_ (totally
anglicized in its pronunciation--_deep-oh)_; but _depot_ is in French
the name for a storehouse, and it is not--or not customarily--the name
of a railway station. It was also a custom in American theatres to give
the name of _parquette_-seats to the chairs which are known in England
as 'stalls'; and in village theatres _parquette_ was generally
There are probably as many in Great Britain as in the United States
who speak the French which is not spoken by the French themselves.
Affectation and pretentiousness and the desire to show off are abundant
in all countries. They manifest themselves even in Paris, where I once
discovered on a bill of fare at the Grand Hotel _Irisch-stew a la
francaise_. This may be companioned by a bill of fare on a Cunard
steamer plying between Liverpool and New York, whereon I found myself
authorized to order _tartletes_ and _cutletes_. When I called the
attention of a neighbour to these outlandish vocables, the affable
steward bent forward to enlighten my ignorance. 'It's the French,
sir,' he explained; '_tartlete_ and _cutlete_ is French.'
That way danger lies; and when we are speaking or writing to those who
have English as their mother-tongue there are obvious advantages in
speaking and writing English, with no vain effort to capture Gallic
graces. Readers of Mark Twain's _Tramp Abroad_ will recall the scathing
rebuke which the author administered to his agent, Harris, because a
report which Harris had submitted was peppered, not only with French and
German words, but also with savage plunder from Choctaw and Feejee and
Eskimo. Harris explained that he intruded these hostile verbs and nouns
to adorn his page, and justified himself by saying that 'they all do
it. Everybody that writes elegantly'. Whereupon Mark Twain, whose own
English was as pure as it was rich and flexible, promptly read Harris a
needed lesson: 'A man who writes a book for the general public to read
is not justified in disfiguring his pages with untranslated foreign
expressions. It is an insolence toward the majority of the purchasers,
for it is a very frank and impudent way of saying, "Get the translations
made yourselves if you want it--this book is not written for the
ignorant classes".... The writer would say that he uses the foreign
language where the delicacy of his point cannot be conveyed in English.
Very well, then, he writes his best things for the tenth man, and he
ought to warn the other nine not to buy his book.'
The result of these straight-forward and out-spoken remarks is set
forth by Mark Twain himself: 'When the musing spider steps upon the
red-hot shovel, he first exhibits a wild surprise, then he shrivels
up. Similar was the effect of these blistering words upon the tranquil
and unsuspecting agent. I can be dreadfully rough on a person when the
mood takes me.'
This sermon might have been made even broader in its application. It is
not always only the ignorant who are discommoded by a misguided reliance
on foreign words as bestowers of elegance; it is often the man of
culture, aware of the meaning of the alien vocable but none the less
jarred by its obtrusion on an English page. The man of culture may have
his attention disturbed even by a foreign word which has long been
acclimatized in English, if it still retains its unfriendly appearance.
I suppose that _savan_ has established its citizenship in our
vocabulary; it is, at least, domiciled in our dictionaries; but when
I found it repeated by Frederic Myers, in _Science and a Future Life_,
to avoid the use of 'scientist', the French word forced itself on me,
and I found myself reviving a boyish memory of a passage in Abbott's
_Life of Napoleon_ dealing with Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt and
narrating the attacks of the Mamelukes, when the order was given to
form squares with '_savans_ and asses in the center'.
An otherwise fine passage of Ruskin's has always been spoilt for me by
the wilful incursion of two French words, which seem to me to break the
continuity of the sentence: 'A well-educated gentleman may not know many
languages; may not be able to speak any but his own; may have read very
few books. But whatever language he knows, he knows precisely; whatever
word he pronounces, he pronounces rightly; above all, he is learned in
the peerage of words; knows the words of true descent and ancient blood
at a glance from words of modern _canaille_; remembers all their
ancestry, their intermarriages, distantest relationships, and the extent
to which they were admitted, and offices they hold, among the national
_noblesse_ of words, at any time and in any country.' Are not _canaille_
and _noblesse_ distracting? Do they not interrupt the flow? Do they not
violate what Herbert Spencer aptly called the Principle of Economy of
Attention, which he found to be the basis of all the rules of rhetoric?
Since I have made one quotation from Ruskin, I am emboldened to make two
from Spencer, well known as his essay on 'Style' ought to be:--'A reader
or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power
available. To recognize and interpret the symbols presented to him,
requires part of his power; to arrange and combine the images suggested
requires a further part; and only that part which remains can be used
for realizing the thought conveyed. Hence, the more time and attention
it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and
attention can be given to the contained idea; and the less vividly will
that idea be conceived.'--'Carrying out the metaphor that language is
the vehicle of thought, there seems reason to think that in all cases
the friction and inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency; and
that in composition, the chief, if not the sole thing to be done, is to
reduce this friction and inertia to the smallest possible amount.'
_Savan_ and _canaille_ and _noblesse_ may be English words; but they
have not that appearance. They have not rooted themselves in English
earth as _war_ has, for instance, and _cab_ and _wig_. To me, for one,
they increase the friction and the inertia; and yet, of course, the
words themselves are not strange to me; they seem to me merely out of
place and in the way. I can easily understand why Myers and Ruskin
wanted them, even needed them. It was because they carried a meaning not
easily borne by more obvious and more hackneyed nouns. 'The words of our
mother tongue', said Lowell in his presidential address to the Modern
Language Association of America, 'have been worn smooth by so often
rubbing against our lips and our minds, while the alien word has all the
subtle emphasis and beauty of some new-minted coin of ancient Syracuse.
In our critical estimates we should be on our guard against its charm.'
Since I have summoned myself as a witness I take the stand once more to
confess that Alan Seeger's lofty lyric, 'I have a rendezvous with Death'
has a diminished appeal because of the foreign connotations of
'rendezvous'. The French noun was adopted into English more than three
centuries ago; and it was used as a verb nearly three centuries ago; it
does not interfere with the current of sympathy when I find it in the
prose of Scott and of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, it appears to me
unfortunate in Seeger's noble poem, where it forces me to taste its
Another French word, _bouquet_, is indisputably English; and yet when I
find it in Walt Whitman's heartfelt lament for Lincoln, 'O Captain, my
Captain', I cannot but feel it to be a blemish:--
'For you _bouquets_ and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shore's a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.'
It may be hypercriticism on my part, but _bouquet_ strikes me as sadly
infelicitous; and a large part of its infelicity is due to its having
kept its French spelling and its French pronunciation. It is not in
keeping; it diverts the flow of feeling; it is almost indecorous--much
as a quotation from Voltaire in the original might be indecorous in a
funeral address delivered by an Anglican bishop in a cathedral.
[Footnote 2: _Savan_ is quite obsolete in British use, and is not in the
_Century Dictionary_ or in Webster, 1911. _Savant_ is common, and often
written without italics, but the pronunciation is never
There are several questions which writers and speakers who give thought
to their expressions will do well to ask themselves when they are
tempted to employ a French word or indeed a word from any alien tongue.
The first is the simplest: Is the foreign word really needed? For
example, there is no benefit in borrowing _impasse_ when there exists
already in English its exact equivalent, 'blind-alley', which carries
the meaning more effectively even to the small percentage of readers or
listeners who are familiar with French. Nor is there any gain in
_resume_ when 'summary' and 'synopsis' and 'abstract' are all available.
The second question is perhaps not quite so simple: Is the French word
one which English has already accepted and made its own? We do not
really need _questionnaire_, since we have 'interrogatory', but if we
want it we can make shift with 'questionary'; and for _concessionnaire_
we can put 'concessionary'. To balance 'employer' there is 'employee',
better by far than _employe_, which insists on a French pronunciation.
Matthew Arnold and Lowell, always apt and exact in their use of their
own tongue, were careful to prefer the English 'technic' to the French
_technique_, which is not in harmony with the adjectives 'technical' and
_polytechnic_. So 'clinic' seems at last to have vanquished its French
father _clinique_, as 'fillet' has superseded _filet_; and now that
'valet' has become a verb it has taken on an English pronunciation.
Then there is _litterateur_. If a synonym for 'man of letters' is
demanded why not find it in 'literator', which Lockhart did not
hesitate to employ in the _Life of Scott_. It is pleasant to believe
that _communard_, which was prevalent fifty years ago after the burning
of the Tuileries, has been succeeded by 'communist' and that its
twin-brother _dynamitard_ is now rarely seen and even more rarely heard.
Perhaps some of the credit may be due to Stevenson, who entitled his
tale the _Dynamiter_ and appended a foot-note declaring that 'any
writard who writes _dynamitard_ shall find in me a never-resting
The third question may call for a little more consideration: Has the
foreign word been employed so often that it has ceased to be foreign
even though it has not been satisfactorily anglicized in spelling and
pronunciation? In the _Jungle Book_ Mr. Kipling introduces an official
who is in charge of the 'reboisement' of India; and in view of the
author's scrupulosity in dealing with professional vocabularies we may
assume that this word is a recognized technical term, equivalent to the
older word 'afforestation'. What is at once noteworthy and praiseworthy
is that in Mr. Kipling's page it does not appear in italics. And in
Mr. Pearsall Smith's book on the English language one admiring reader
was pleased to find 'debris' also without italics, although with the
retention of the French accent. Perhaps the time is not far distant
when the best writers will cease to stigmatize a captured word with
the italics which are a badge of servitude and which proclaim that it
has not yet been enfranchised into our language.
The fourth question is the most perplexing: If the formerly foreign
word has been taken over and if it can therefore be utilized without
hesitancy, can it be made to form its plural in accord with the customs
of English. Here those who seek to make the English language truly
English and to keep it truly pure, will meet with sturdy resistance.
It will not be easy to persuade the literate, the men of culture, to
renounce the _x_ at the end of _beaux_ and _bureaux_ and to spell these
plurals 'beaus' and 'bureaus'. And yet no one doubts that 'beau' and
'bureau' have both won the right to be regarded as having attained an
honourable standing in our language.
'De Quincey once said that authors are a dangerous class for any
language'--so Professor Krapp has reminded us in his book on _Modern
English_, and he has explained that De Quincey meant 'that the literary
habit of mind is likely to prove dangerous for a language ... because it
so often leads a speaker or writer to distrust natural and unconscious
habit, even when it is right, and to put in its stead some conscious
theory of literary propriety. Such a tendency, however, is directly
opposed to the true feeling for idiomatic English. It destroys the sense
of security, the assurance of perfect congruity between thought and
expression, which the unliterary and unacademic speaker and writer often
has, and which, with both literary and unliterary, is the basis for all
expressive use of language'.
And since I have borrowed the quotation from Professor Krapp I shall
bring this rambling paper to an end by borrowing another, from the
_Toxophilus_ of Roger Ascham (1545).
'He that will wryte well in any tongue must folowe this council of
Aristotle, to speake as the common people do, to think as wise men do.
Many English writers have not done so, but using straunge wordes as
latin, french, and Italian, do make all things darke and harde. Once I
communed with a man whiche reasoned the englyshe tongue to be enryched
and encreased thereby, sayinge--Who wyll not prayse that feaste where a
man shall drinke at a diner bothe wyne, ale and beere? Truly, quod I
they all be good, every one taken by hym selfe alone, but if you put
Malmesye and sacke, read wine and whyte, ale and beere, and al in one
pot, you shall make a drynke neyther easie to be knowen nor yet holsom
for the body.'
The word #laches#, which is not noticed in the above paper, is one
of a list of words sent to us by a correspondent who suggests that
it is the business of our society to direct the public as to their
pronunciation. Like other examples given by Mr. Matthews, _laches_ seems
to be at present in an uncertain condition; and as it is used only by
lawyers they will be able to decide its future. What seems clear about
it is that the two contending pronunciations are homophones, one with
_latches_ the other with _lashes_. The A having been Englished its
closing T seems natural; and _latches_ (from _lachesse_) is thus an
exact parallel with _riches_ (from _richesse_). But there seems no
propriety in the SS being changed to Z. The pronunciation _latchess_
would save it from its awkward and absurd homophone _latches_, and would
be in order with _prowess, largess, noblesse_, &c. Moreover, since
_laches_ is used only as the name of a quality (= negligence) and never
(like _riches_), as a plural, to connote special acts of negligence, the
pronunciation _latchess_ would be correct as well as convenient; and the
word would be better spelt with double S: _lachess_.
Of the word #levee# the _O.E.D._ says, 'All our verse quotations
place the stress on the first syllable. In England this is the court
pronunciation, and prevails in educated use. The pronunciation' with the
accent on the second syllable 'which is given by Walker, is occasionally
heard in Great Britain, and appears to be generally preferred in the
U.S.', but the dictionary does not quote Burns
'Guid-mornin' to your Majesty!
May Heav'n augment your blisses,
On ev'ry new birthday ye see,
A humble poet wishes!
My bardship here, at your levee,
On sic a day as this is,
Is sure an uncouth sight to see,
Amang thae birthday dresses
Sae fine this day.'
So that it would seem that the Scotch and American pronunciation of this
word is more thoroughly Englished than our own: and the prejudice which
opposes straightforward common-sense solutions, however desirable they
may be, is brought home to us by the fact that almost all Englishmen
would be equally shocked by the notion either of spelling this word as
they pronounce it, _levay_, or of pronouncing it, like Burns, as they
spell it, _levee_.
ENGLISH WORDS IN FRENCH
It would be instructive if we could give a parallel account of what the
French do when they adopt an English word into their language. _Le
Dictionnaire des Anglicismes_, lately published by Delagrave, has two
hundred pages, and is much praised by a reviewer in the _Mercure de
France_, Feb. 15, p. 246: but it does not give the current French
pronunciations of the English words. The reviewer writes: 'Ce qui me
gene bien davantage, c'est que M. Bonnaffe supprime, partout, avec
rigueur, la facon francaise de prononcer le mot anglais. Etait-il
superflu de dire comment nous articulons _shampooing_? Nous n'avons, je
crois, qu'une forme orale pour _boy_, petit domestique, parce qu'il est
du a l'oreille; mais nous sommes partages quant a _boy-scout_, qui est
arrive par tracts et par journaux. L'anglais donne un mot _high-life_,
le francais en fait cinq: _haylayf, ailaif, ichlif, ijlif, iglif_.'
p. 247. It would seem from _high-life_ that English words in French
sometimes look as strange as French words do when represented in
make-shift English phonetics. On p. 228 of the same _Mercure_ there is
notice of 'un petit manuel de conversation' in which 'Toutes les nuances
de la "phonetic pronunciation" sont notees, a l'usage des Americains
desireux de se faire comprendre en francais. Cette notation (says the
reviewer) m'a tellement amuse que je ne puis resister au plaisir
d'en citer quelques exemples: Av-nue' day Shawn Zay-lee-zay',
Plass de la Kown-kord' to Plass der lay-twal. Fown-ten day
Zeen-noh-sawn,--Oh-pay-ra Kum-meek,--Foh-lee Bair-zhair,--Bool-var
day Ka-pu-seen,--Beeb-lee-oh-tech Sant Zhun-vee-ayv',--Lay
Zan-va-leed,--May-zown' der Veck-tor' U-goh',--Hub-bay-leesk',--Rue
San Tawn-twan, &c., &c....' There would seem to be errors in this
'citation'. Vecktor should be Veektor? and H looks like a misprint
for L in Hub-bay-leesk. -tech was probably -teck. Bonnaffe's book
is noticed in _The Modern Language Review_ of last January.
ON THE DIALECTAL WORDS IN EDMUND BLUNDEN'S POEMS
[Footnote 3: _The Waggoner and other Poems_, by Edmund Blunden, pp. 70.
Sidgwick and Jackson. London, 1920.]
In the original prospectus of the S.P.E., reprinted in Tract I, and
again in III, p. 9, one of the objects of the Society is stated to be
the 'enrichment and what is called regeneration of the language from the
picturesque vocabularies of local vernaculars'. Since a young poet, Mr.
Edmund Blunden, has lately published a volume in which this particular
element of dialectal and obsolescent words is very prominent, it will be
suitable to our general purpose to consider it as a practical experiment
and examine the results. The poetic diction and high standard of his
best work give sufficient importance to this procedure; and though he
may seem to be somewhat extravagant in his predilection for unusual
terms, yet his poetry cannot be imagined without them, and the strength
and beauty of the effects must be estimated in his successes and not in
In the following remarks no appreciation of the poetry will be
attempted: our undertaking is merely to tabulate the 'new' words,
and examine their fitness for their employment. The bracketed numbers
following the quotations give the page of the book where they occur.
The initials _O.E.D._ and _E.D.D._ stand for the _Oxford English
Dictionary_ and the _English Dialect Dictionary_ (Wright).
1. 'And churning owls and goistering daws'. (1)
Here _churning_ is a mistake; we are sorry to begin with an
animadversion, but the word should be _churring_. #Churr# is an
echo-word, and though there may be examples of echo-words which have
been bettered by losing all trace of their simple spontaneous origin,
this is not one. It is like _burr, purr,_ and _whirr_; and these words
are best spelt with double R and the R should be trilled. The absurdity
of not trilling this final R is seen very plainly in _burr_, because
that word's definition is 'a rough sounding of the letter R.' This is
not represented by the pronunciation b[schwa]:. What that 'southern
English' pronunciation does indicate is the vulgarity and inconvenience
of its degradations. _Burr_ occurs in these poems:
'There the live dimness burrs with droning glees'. (23)
#Burr# is, moreover, a bad homophone and cannot neglect possible
distinctions: the Oxford Dictionary has eight entries of substantives
Our author also uses _whirr_:
'And the bleak garrets' crevices
Like whirring distaffs utter dread', (26)
and again of the noise of wind in ivy, on p. 54, and
'The damp gust makes the ivy whir', (48)
_whir_ rhyming here with _executioner_.
Since _churring_ (in the first quotation) would automatically preserve
its essential trill, the intruder _churning_ is the more obnoxious; and
unless the R can be trilled it would seem better for poets to use only
the inflected forms of these words, and prefer _churreth_ to _churrs_.
If _churn_ is anywhere dialectal for _churr_, it must have come from the
common mistake of substituting a familiar for an unknown word: and this
is the worst way of making homophones.
2. 'goistering daws'.
#Goister# or #gauster# is a common dialect verb; the latter
form seems the more common and is recognized in the Oxford Dictionary,
where it is defined 'to behave in a noisy boisterous fashion ... in some
localities to laugh noisily'. If jackdaws are to appropriate a word to
describe their behaviour, no word could be better than _goistering_, and
we prefer _goister_ to _gauster_. Its likeness to _boisterous_ will
assist it, and we guess that it will be accepted. In the little glossary
at the end of the book _goistering_ is explained as _guffawing_. That
word is not so descriptive of the jackdaw, since it suggests 'coarse
bursts of laughter', and the coarseness is absent from the fussy
vulgarity and mere needless jabber of the daw.
3. 'A dor flew by with crackling cry'. (7)
This to the ear is
'A daw flew by with crackling cry';
and though our poet's glossary tells us that dor = dor-hawk or nightjar,
it really is not so. A dor is a beetle so called from its making a
_dorring_ noise, and the name, like _churr_ and _burr_, is better with
its double R and trill. _Dor-hawk_ may be a name for the _nightjar_, but
properly _dorr_ is not; and if it were, it would be forbidden by _daw_
so long as it neglected its trill. Note also the misfortune that four
lines below we read
'The pigeons flaunted round his door',
where the full correct pronunciation of _door_ (d[open o][schwa]) will
not quite protect it. The whole line quoted from p. 7 is obscure,
because a nightjar would never be recognized by the description of a
bird that utters a crackling cry when flying. That it then makes a sound
different from its distinctive whirring note is recorded. T.A. Coward
writes 'when on the wing it has a soft call co-ic, and a sharper and
repeated alarm quik, quik, quik.' It is doubtful whether _crackling_ can
4. 'The grumping miller picked his way'. (8)
#Grumping# is a good word, which appears from the dictionaries to
be a common-speech term that is picking its way into literature.
5. 'The golden nobs and pippens swell'. (12)
#nob# is _knob_. Golden-nob is 'a variety of apple'; see _E.D.D._:
and as a special name, which the passage implies, it should be hyphened.
6. 'where the pollards frown,
Notched, dumb, surly images of pain'. (13)
#Notched.# This word well describes the appearance of old pollard
willows after they have been cropped; but its full propriety may escape
notice. A very early use of the verb _to notch_ was to cut or crop the
hair roughly, and _notched_ was so used. The Oxford Dictionary quotes
Lamb, 'a notched and cropt scrivener'. Then _pollard_ itself is from
_poll_, and means an animal that has lost its horns as well as a tree
that has been 'pollarded'.
7. 'In elver-peopled crevices'. (19)
We are grateful for #elver#. This form has carefully differentiated
itself from _eel-fare_, which means the passage of the young eels up the
rivers, and has come to mean the _eel-fry_ themselves.
8. 'For Sussex cries from primrose lags and breaks'. (22)
_E.D.D._, among many meanings of #lag#, explains this as a Sussex
and Somerset term for 'a long marshy meadow usually by the side of a
stream'. Since the word seems as if it might be used for anything
somewhere, we cannot question its title to these meadows, but we doubt
its power to retain possession, except in some favoured locality.
9. 'And chancing lights on willowy waterbreaks'. (22)
We have to guess what a _waterbreak_ is, having found no other example
of the word.
10. 'Of hobby-horses with their starting eyes'. (23)
#Hobby-horse# as a local or rustic name for dragon-fly can have no
right to general acceptance.
11. 'Stolchy ploughlands hid in grief.' (24)
#Stolchy# is so good a word that it does not need a dictionary.
Wright gives only the verb _stolch_ 'to tread down, trample, to walk in
the dirt'. The adjective is therefore primarily applicable to wet land
that has become sodden and miry by being _poached_ by cattle, and then
to any ground in a similar condition. Since _poach_ is a somewhat
confused homophone, its adjective _poachy_ has no chance against
12. 'I whirry through the dark'. (24)
#Whirry# is another word that explains itself, and perhaps the more
readily for its confusion (in this sense) with _worry_, see _E.D.D._
where it is given as adjective and verb, the latter used by Scott in
'Midlothian'. 'Her and the gude-man will be whirrying through the
blue lift on a broom-shank.' In the _Century Dictionary_, with its
pronunciation hwer'i, it is described as dialectal form of _whirr_ or
of _hurry_, to fly rapidly with noise, also transitive to hurry.
13. 'No hedger brished nor scythesman swung'. (25)
'The morning hedger with his brishing-hook'. (62)
These two lines explain the word #brish#. _O.E.D._ gives _brish_ as
dialectal of _brush_, and so _E.D.D._ has the verb _to brush_ as dialect
for trimming a tree or hedge. Brush is a difficult homophone, and it
would be useful to have one of its derivative meanings separated off
14. 'A hizzing dragonfly that daps
Above his mudded pond'. (28)
#Hizzing# is an old word now neglected. Shakespeare has
'To have a thousand with red burning spits
Come hizzing in upon 'em'.--_Lear_, III. vi. 17.
and there are other quotations in _O.E.D._
15. #Dap# is used again, 'the dapping moth'. (45.) This word is
well known to fishermen and fowlers, meaning 'to dip lightly and
suddenly into water' but is uncommon in literature.
16. 'The glinzy ice grows thicker through'. (28)
Author's glossary explains #glinzy# as slippery. _E.D.D._ gives
this word as _glincey_ and derives from French _glincer_ as _glisser_,
to slide or glide. _Glinzy_ and _glincey_ carry unavoidable suggestion
of _glint_. Compare the words in No. 19. _Glissery_ would be convincing.
17. 'The green east hagged with prowling storm'. (30)
In _O.E.D._ #hagged# is given as monopolized by the sense of
'bewitched', or of 'lean and gaunt', related to haggard. This does not
suit. The intention is probably an independent use of the p.p. of the
transitive verb 'to hag'; defined as 'to torment or terrify as a hag,
to trouble as the nightmare'.
18. 'where with the browsing thaive'. (31)
#Thaive# is a two-year-old ewe. Wright gives _theave_ or _theeve_
as the commoner forms, and in the Paston letters it is _theyve_, which
perhaps confirms _thaive_, rhymed here with 'rave'. Certainly it is most
advisable to avoid _thieves_, the plural of thief, although _O.E.D._
allows this pronunciation and indeed puts it first of the alternatives.
19. 'On the pathway side ... the glintering flint'. (32)
_O.E.D_. gives #glinter# as a 'rare' word. We have _glinting,
glistening, glittering_, and _glistering_, and Scotch _glisting_.
20. 'The wind tangs through the shattered pane'. (34)
Echo-words, like ting-tang, ding-dong, &c., must have their liberty; but
of #tang# it should be noted that, though the verb may raise no
inconvenience, yet the substantive has a very old and well-established
use in the sense of a projecting point or barb (especially of metal), or
sting, and that this demands respect and recognition. It is something
less than prong, and is the proper word for the metal point that fixes
the strap of a buckle. The homophonic ambiguity is notorious in
'She had a tongue with a tang',
where, as the _O.E.D._ suggests, the double sense of sting and ring were
21. 'The grutching pixies hedge me round'. (37)
_Grudge_ and #grutch# are the same word. The use of the obsolete
form would therefore be fanciful if there were no difference in the
sense; but there is a useful distinction: because grudge has entirely
lost its original sense of murmuring, making complaint, and is confined
to the consciousness and feeling of discontent, whereas _grutch_ is
recognized as carrying the old meaning of grumble. Thus Stevenson as
quoted in _O.E.D._, 'The rest is grunting and grutching'. It is a very
useful word to restore, but it may, perhaps, at this particular time
find _grouse_ rather strongly entrenched.
22. 'Where the channering insect channels'. (46)
This is, of course, our old friend
The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,
The channerin' worm doth chide',
and it looks like an attempt to define what is there meant, viz. that
the worm made a #channering# noise in burrowing through the wood.
The notion is perhaps admissible, though we cannot believe the sound to
23. 'The lispering aspens'. (53)
#Lispering.# We should be grateful for this word. _O.E.D._ quotes
it from Clare's poems.
24. 'Of shallows with the shealings chalky white'. (64)
#Sheal# is a homophone, 1. a shepherd's hut or shanty; 2. a peascod
or seed-shell. Of the first, _shiel_ and _shieling_ are common forms;
the second is dialectal; _E.D.D._ gives #shealing# as the husk of
seeds. If this be the meaning in our quotation, the appearance described
is unrecognized by the present annotator.
25. 'Dull streams
Flow flagging in the undescribed deep fourms
Of creatures born the first of all, long dead'. (67)
#Fourm#, explained as a 'hare's lurking place', commonly called
_form_, widely used and understood because the lair has the shape or
form of the animal that lay in it. But perhaps it was originally only
the animal's seat or form, as we use the word in schools. _Form_ has so
many derivative senses that it would be an advantage to have this one
thus differentiated both in spelling and sound.
26. 'Toadstools twired and hued fantastically'. (68)
Though the word #twired# is not explained in Mr. Blunden's glossary
and the meaning is not evident from the context, we guess that he is
using it here of shape, in the sense of 'contorted', which would range
with the quotation from Burton (given in some dictionaries) 'No sooner
doth a young man see his sweetheart coming, but he ... slickes his
haire, twires his beard [&c.]'. Here _twires_, as latest edition of
_O.E.D._ suggests, may be a misprint for _twirls_. Older dictionaries
give wrong and misleading definitions of this word; and a spurious
_twire_, to sing, was inferred from a misreading 'twierethe' for
'twitereth' in Chaucer's _Boethius_, III m. 2. Modern authorities only
allow _twire_, to peep, as in Shakespeare's 28th Sonnet,
'When sparkling stars twire not, thou gildst the even'
(whence some had foolishly supposed that _twire_ meant twinkle) and in
Ben Jonson, _Sad Shepherd_, II. 1, 'Which maids will twire at, 'tween
their fingers'. The verb is still in dialectal use: _E.D.D._ explains it
'to gaze wistfully or beseechingly'.
27. 'The tiny frogs
Go yerking'. (69)
#Yerk.# The intrans. verb is to kick as a horse. The trans. verb is
quoted from Massinger, Herrick, and Burns, who has 'My fancy yerkit up
sublime': i.e. roused, lashed.
28. 'There seems no heart in wood or wide'. (8)
#Wide# as a subst. is hardly recognized. Tennyson is quoted, 'The
waste wide of that abyss', but as _waste_ is a recognized substantive
the authority is uncertain.
In the above examples we have taken such words as best answered our
purpose, neglecting many which have almost equal claims. The richness of
the vocabulary in unusual words and in words carrying unusual meanings
forbids complete examination; as will be seen by a rough classification
of some of those which we have passed over.
To begin with the words which our author uses well, we will quote as an
example all the passages in which #writhe# occurs. The transitive
verb which is perhaps in danger of neglect is very valuable, and it is
well employed. These passages will also fully exhibit the general
quality of Mr. Blunden's diction.
'But no one loves the aguish mist
That writhes its way at eventide
Along the copse's waterside'. (3)
'But now the sower's hand is writhed
In livid death '. (25)
'To-morrow's brindled shouting storms with flood
The purblind hollows with a leaden rain
And flat the gleaning-fields to choking mud
And writhe the groaning woods with bursts of pain'. (42)
'The lispering aspens and the scarfed brook-grasses
With wakened melancholy writhe the air'. (53)
#Dimpling# is well and poetically used in
'While the woodlark's dimpling rings
In the dim air climb'. (21)
and also _quag_ (verb) (2), _seething_ (3), _channelled_ (9), _bunch_
(11), _jungled_ (11), _rout_ (verb) (12), _fluster_ (13), _byre_ (13),
_plash_ (shallow water) (19), _tantalise_ (neut. v.) (36), _hutched_
(43), _flounce_ (44), _rootle_ (45), _shore_ (verb) (59). _Lair_ (verb)
(43) does not seem a useful word.
Next, words somewhat obscurely or fancifully used are _starving_ (1),
_stark_ (10), _honeycomb_ (15), _cobbled_ (of pattens) (16), _lanterned_
(24), _well_ (49), _bergomask_ (for village country dances?) (25),
_belvedere_ (of the spider's watch tower) (26).
While the following seem to us incorrectly used: _mumbling_ (23) used of
wings; the word is confined to the mouth whether as a manner of eating
or of speaking: _crunch_ (28) where the frosts crunch the grass: whereas
they only make it crunchable. _maligns_ (54) used as a neuter verb
without precedent, _chinked_ (58) of light passing through a chink:
and note the homophone chink, used of sound. And then the line
'The blackthorns clung with heapen sloes' (55)
contains two reprehensible liberties, because _clung_ in its
original proper sense means congealed or shrivelled; to _cling_ was an
intransitive verb meaning to adhere together: its modern use is to stick
fast [to something]--and secondly, _heapen_ is not a grammatical form;
the p.p. is _heaped_.
Again, in the line
'He well may come with baits and trolls', (11)
we do not know whether _trolls_ has something to do with pike-fishing,
or merely means the reel on the rod. In that sense it lacks
authority(?), moreover it is a homophone, used by our poet in
'And trolls and pixies unbeknown'. (18)
Finally, there are a good many English country names for common plants,
for example, Esau's-hands, Rabbits'-meat, Bee's balsams, Pepper-gourds,
Brandy-flowers, Flannel-weed, and Shepherd's rose; and some of these are
excellent, and we very much wish that more of our good English
plant-names could be distinctively attached.
We will not open the discussion here, except to say that the casual
employment of local names is of no service because so many of these
names are common to so many different plants. Our author's
#Rabbits'-meat#, for instance, is applied to _Anthriscus
sylvestris_, _Heracleum Spondylium_, _Oxalis Acetosella_ and _Lamium
purpureum_; all of which may be suitable rabbits' food. But each
one of these plants has also a very wide choice of other names: thus
_Anthriscus sylvestris_, besides being _Rabbits-meat_ may be familiarly
introduced as Dill, Keck, Ha-ho, or Bun, and by some score of other
names showing it to be disputed for by the ass, cow, dog, pig and even
by the devil himself to make his oatmeal.
_Heracleum Spondylium_, alias Old Rot or Lumper-scrump, provides
provender for cow, pig, swine, and hog, and also material for Bear's
_Oxalis Acetosella_ is even richer in pet-names. After Rabbits'-meat,
sheep-sorrel, cuckoo-spice, we find Hallelujah! Lady's cakes, and God
Almighty's bread-and-cheese. These are selected from fifty names.
_Lamium purpureum_ is not so polyonymous. With Tormentil, Archangel,
and various forms of Dead-nettle, we find only Badman's Posies and
The worst perplexity is that well-known names, which one would think
were securely appropriated, are often common property. Our authority for
the above details--the _Dictionary of English Plant-names_, by James
Britten and Robert Holland--tells us that _Orchis mascula_, the 'male
orchis', is also called Cowslip, Crowsfoot, Ragwort, and Cuckoo-flower.
This plant, however, seems to have suggested to the rustic mind the most
varied fancies, similitudes of all kinds from 'Aaron's beard' to
* * * * *
The Committee of the S.P.E. invite the membership of all those who are
genuinely interested in the objects of the Society and willing to assist
in its work. The Secretary will be glad to receive donations of any
amount, great or small, which will be duly acknowledged and credited in
the Society's banking account.
Members who wish to have the tracts of the Society forwarded to them as
they are issued, should ensure this by sending a subscription of 10_s_.
to the Secretary, who will then supply them for the current year of
their subscription. The four tracts published in the last year were thus
sent to a number of subscribers; and it would greatly assist the Society
if all these would renew their subscriptions, and if others would
subscribe for our forthcoming publications in the same manner. All
donations and subscriptions should be sent to the Hon. Secretary,
L. PEARSALL SMITH,
11 ST. LEONARD'S TERRACE,
The prospectus of the Society will be found in Tract I, and further
details in Tracts III and IV.
Back to Full Books