WORLD WIDE WORDS NEWSLETTER
Issue 877: Saturday 12 April 2014
1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.
4. Stitched up like a kipper.
1. Feedback, Notes and Comments
Wackaging Alison Williams responded: “My gut objection to your complaint soon solidified as I thought of the enormous volume of poetic examples known as personification, or maybe under the heading anthropomorphism. Do you not agree that there is a valid path between ‘Blow winds and crack your cheeks’ and ‘Hello, please refrigerate me immediately’? If you can address a thing and imagine it as an object, why not imagine the response?”
Many readers pointed out early examples of packaging that speaks to you in the first person. Some reminded me of Eat Me dates, a brand that long predates Innocent smoothies. The most famous examples must be those encountered by Alice — a bottle labelled Drink Me and a cake labelled Eat Me — about which she was rightly suspicious. But it would be a calumny on Lewis Carroll to place the current fashion for cutesy product blubs on his shoulders.
On my comment about buses now being signed, “I’m not in service”, Jill Williams responded, “To add insult to injury, some buses in Glasgow display their non-availability in dialect: ‘Ah’m no’ in service’.”
A traditional English riddle runs
Though not a cow I have horns;
Though not an ass I carry a pack-saddle;
And wherever I go I leave silver behind me.
The answer, in a curious little southern English dialect word, sadly long since defunct, is hodmandod — in everyday language, a snail.
Before a snail was a hodmandod, it was a dodman, whose origin is puzzling, but may be related to the rare word dod for a rounded, bare hilltop; this comes from the Middle English dodden, to make the top of something bare, an activity you will agree definitely needs its own verb. The snail’s shell might have been fancifully compared to a bare hilltop. Dodman became extended through what Malcolm Jones described in Dialect in Wiltshire as a “childish, part-rhyming reduplication” to make hoddy-doddy and hodmandod. But dodman has outlived its extended relative and is still to be found in Norfolk dialect.
The earliest example of hodmandod on record is in a work by the famously arrogant and pedantic Elizabethan lawyer and writer Gabriel Harvey. When he moved to London from his home town of Saffron Walden (where saffron was once widely cultivated), he managed to get involved in an interminable series of controversial exchanges with some of the best pamphleteers of his time, including John Lyly and Thomas Nashe. Gabriel Harvey responded to a scornful putdown of his brother Thomas by Nashe, describing the latter in crude insults as
… the son of a mule, a raw grammarian, a brabbling sophister, a counterfeit crank, a stale rake-hell, a piperly rimer, a stump-worn railer, a dodkin author, whose two swords are like the horns of a hodmandod; whose courage [is] like the fury of a gad-bee; and whose surmounting bravery, like the wings of a butterfly.
Pierce’s Supererogation, or a New Praise of the Old Ass, by Gabriel Harvey, 1593. The spelling is modernised, but not the vocabulary; brabbling meant hair-splitting.
Somehow, perhaps through a mental association with a hunchback, the word also came to mean a deformed person:
His head was thrice broader than his body, which fortunate accident had made such a hodmandod one of the greatest philosophers of this age; but it had also given the appearance of one of those rude and grotesque figures which German wit carves out for a humorous pair of nutcrackers.
The Spirit of the Public Journals, 1807.
Some writers have confused dodman with dudman, a scarecrow. The latter looks like a mere variation but its senses show that it must have a different origin, though nobody knows what it is. We do know that it comes from duds in the sense of clothing, which came to refer particularly to rags and tatters. Duds is also the source of dud in the sense of something counterfeit, useless or broken.
Pass, mustard Connie Mcinnis emailed. She had been combing the internet without success for the origin of the phrase as grave as a mustard pot. She doesn’t mention where she found it but it must have been in a publication of some antiquity as it has been out of fashion for more than a century. In her form there are numerous examples in British, Australian and American sources from the 1830s onwards. A slightly different version appears in George Colman the Younger’s play The Heir at Law of 1797: “Look ye, you grave mustard-pot of a philosopher!” But why should a mustard pot be thought serious or solemn? I have not the slenderest clue.
Blended beasts From time to time, I’ve noted the tendency for dog breeders to create quaint names for crossbreeds, such as labradoodle and cockapoo. The same linguistic blending process has been used to name naturally occurring animals such as the tigon and liger (lion + tiger), terms which date from the 1920s. This week, I came across a weirder example: lijagulep, a lion crossed with a jaguar crossed with a leopard. In 1908 an animal of this breeding was displayed at the London Zoo as a Congolese spotted lion, but was shown to be a hybrid. But the name lijagulep for it is much more recent, as are others that Neil Patrick Stewart listed in Fact. Fact. Bullsh*t! of 2011: “My favorites are the lijagulep, the result of a male lion mating with a female jagupard or leguar, and the leoligulor, the result of a male leopon (which is actually fertile) mating with a liguar.”
4. Stitched up like a kipper
Q From Sophie Yauner: Do you have any ideas on where the phrase stitched up like a kipper (and stitch up, which I presume is an abbreviation), comes from? Despite searching the internet I have not found a convincing answer.
A I have to confess to twitching whenever anybody mentions kippers. A few years ago, I did a radio piece for an American radio programme on another kipper-related expression. After my detailed exposition, there was a silence and then the presenter said, “That’s all very interesting … but, what’s a kipper?”
So I must begin by explaining that kippers, traditionally part of the British breakfast, are herrings that have been split, gutted, lightly salted and cured by cold smoking. Anybody describing himself or somebody else as kippered is suggesting that he’s figuratively “dead, gutted, skinned and cooked”, in other words thoroughly exploited or taken advantage of.
Eric Partridge suggested that the plain verb, kipper, had been used from the 1920s in the sense of having one’s chances ruined. But a longer version done up like a kipper starts to appear in the record in 1981, in a script of the BBC television comedy show Only Fools and Horses.
This is a recent example:
And being what is known as “an innocent abroad”, he had signed a number of rapidly drawn-up contracts and been “done up like a kipper”, which is to say, “taken to the cleaners”, which is to say, swindled.
Nostradamus Ate My Hamster, by Robert Rankin, 1996.
However, John Bagnall, one of the group of volunteers who sanity-check the draft of this newsletter each week, recalls that both this version and yours were around earlier in the spoken language:
I was chief press officer for EMI Records in the mid 1970s and recall done up like a kipper and stitched up like a kipper being in popular music industry usage around that time. Its chief proponent within EMI was Eric Hall, then EMI’s chief radio and TV “plugger” (promotions man). The specific sense in which I often heard or used them was that of being left with no room for manoeuvre or scope for negotiation (“I thought the costs would be shared but their lawyer had found a clause in the contract that said we had to pay for everything; I tried to negotiate but he’d got me stitched up like a kipper”).
The done up version almost certainly came first but was soon combined with the slightly older stitched up, criminal slang for having been falsely incriminated by the police through methods such as planting evidence or faking confessions. The result, stitched up like a kipper, is wonderful nonsense, as it’s one fate the hapless herring can hardly expect to suffer.
Well, it now transpires that poor [Andrew] Mitchell may have been stitched up like a kipper by a copper, because part of the email evidence against him was fabricated by an officer pretending to be an ordinary civilian who had witnessed the altercation.
The Sun, 20 Dec. 2012.
• “Not everything is bigger in Texas,” Daniel Lavin commented, having seen a warning the National Weather Service issued on 4 April for the Corpus Christi area of the state: “At 4:28 am CDT, trained weather spotters reported a severe thunderstorm the size of golf balls.”
• The Telegraph reported about a BBC programme covering lambing time. “The crew filmed the third series of the programme from March 24 to March 28, where they focussed on the Dykes — a family that has been sheep for three generations.”
• A review from the Fit for a Pig blog of a restaurant in Sydney’s Fish Markets sounded messy to Alan Eason: “Bite-sized prawns encased within the glistening rice noodle roll formed the signature camel humps that we all have come to recognize. Sitting in a pool of sweet soy sauce, I picked up a roll hoping to find satisfaction in a meal of disappointment.”