Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Recently I shared two posts on Facebook that gave us a good laugh at some old words that the post-writers at Vintage News and History Hustle suggest we bring back. Those posts reminded me of the book I read a couple of months ago, Ellery Queen's Poetic Justice, a collection of "23 stories of crime, mystery, and detection by world-famous poets from Geoffrey Chaucer to Dylan Thomas." Queen published this unique book in 1967, with stories ranging from Chaucer's late 1300s excerpt from "The Pardoner's Tale" to Thomas' mid-1950s story, "The Old Woman Upstairs."

The stories were variously entertaining, boring and really good. But the language itself was consistently rich! From the convoluted structures of some to many delightful words I'd never heard before, to the beautiful rhythms of master writers, this book was the proverbial treasure trove. Here are a few of the gems.

From "The Three Strangers" by Thomas Hardy come two great pairs of words, the second of which explains the first but is just about as rich: "When the shepherd and his family who tenanted the house were pitied for their sufferings from the exposure, they said that upon the whole they were less inconvenienced by 'wuzzles and flames' (hoarses and phlegms) than when they had lived by the stream of a snug neighbouring valley."

Edgar Allan Poe's description of young working men reminded me of what you might see in any large city today: "There were the junior clerks of flash houses – young gentlemen with tight coats, bright boots, well- oiled hair, and supercilious lips…a certain dapperness of carriage, which may be termed deskism for want of a better word..."

One term used by G. K. Chesterton in "The Blast of the Book" (an intriguing title if ever I heard one) could not be found even when I consulted the oracle – a.k.a. Google. Chesterton wrote, "Professor Openshaw, a lean figure with palleonine hair and hypnotic blue eyes…" Palleonine. No one seems to know what it means, so I used my brilliant deductive reasoning to decide that looking up "palleo" might give me a clue. It did. Palleo is an old word that seems to have roamed all over Europe in ancient times and means "pale" or "to lose colour." So I think we can assume that Chesterton's Professor Openshaw had very light blonde hair to go along with his mesmerizing blue eyes.

So whether or not you have palleonine hair, or whether or not you have a flair for deskism, I sincerely hope you will not suffer from wuzzles and flames for the rest of this winter.

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