The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth Read Free Book Online

Book: The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Forsyth
Tags: Humour, Etymology, words, English Language
can measure dew using a
. If you are of a poetic bent, you can contemplate what Browning called the ‘sweet dew silence’. If you are of a practical bent, you can worry about getting your feet wet, for morning moisture can have calamitous consequences, such as
beau traps
    Have you ever trodden upon an innocent-looking paving stone, only to find that there is a hidden hole full of water beneath it? The stone tilts down under your weight and the disgusting dirty rainwater (once known as
dog’s soup
) spurts up all over your ankles and into your shoes. There is a name for this. It is called a beau trap, on the basis that it destroys the leggings of the finely dressed beau about town. Grose’s
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
from 1811 demonstrates that some annoyances are eternal:
    Beau Trap A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damageof white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.
    And the worst possible consequence of a beau trap is to have your shoes filled with water so that you can actually hear it sloshing and squeezing between your toes. There is a word for making this noise:
, as in this Scots poem of 1721:
    Aft have I wid thro’ glens with chorking feet,
    When neither plaid nor kelt cou’d fend the weet. 1
    In fact, it may be best to set off to work on
, which are defined in a dictionary of 1721 as stilts to put the feet in to walk in dirty places, and it would certainly show a sense of balance and altitude that would make you the envy of your neighbours. Also, scatches would allow ladies to be sure that their skirts were never
, which is to say muddied at the hemline. However, walking on scatches would, I imagine, require an awful lot of practice and they would be hard to stow away at work, so you could instead go for
, which are the planks of wood laid out over soft mud used by people who want to wander around on the seashore without getting their boots or their clothes dirty.
    That’s it. The door has closed behind you. So it’s time to check whether you’ve got your keys and your phone and your purse or wallet. This is done by
in your pockets. Grubbling is like groping, except less organised. It is a verb that usually refers to pockets, but can also be used for feeling around in desk drawers that are filled with nicknacks and whatnot. It can even have a non-pocket-relatedsexual sense, although this is rare and seems only ever to have been used by the poet Dryden, as in his translation of Ovid’s
Ars Amatoria
where he rather wistfully arranges to meet his lover thus:
    There I will be, and there we cannot miss,
    Perhaps to Grubble, or at least to Kiss.
    Having established beyond doubt that you’ve forgotten your keys, that your wallet/purse is empty and that your phone is not charged, you can now decide that it’s too late to do anything about it and instead
(advance majestically) to work. Or, if inceding is beyond you, you may
to your chosen mode of transport.
    There are so many methods of getting to and from your place of labour that the lexicographically-minded may simply drown in words. Pliny the Elder records that in the days of Augustus Caesar a boy managed to train a dolphin to carry him to school every morning, a story that resulted in the English word
. However, in default of a dolphin you may make do with a
, which is a comfortable basket affixed to a mule for the benefit of Pyrenean travellers. You could even
to work, brachiate being the technical term for the way that Tarzan swings through the jungle. This gives a fantastic workout to the upper body, but requires that you have a continuous line of trees between your house and your office. If you have enough horsesand too little sleep, you could opt for a
, which is a bed carried on the backs of

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