Word of the Week: Southern necessities

Southern necessities (n): A pair of gentleman’s trousers. I am indebted to Horrible Histories for this delightful High Victorian euphemism. HH is a BBC show for children, aimed at teaching them real history through sketches, songs, gory details, and lots of poo. I heartily recommend it. For a taster, here’s a compilation of the best songs from series 3.

Euphemisms are great fun and offer a revealing glimpse into their coiners’ minds. Southern, for instance. Southern, as opposed to the northern clothescapes of shirt, waistcoat, jacket, obviously, but what did it really mean for respectable Victorians? Could it be the hot, fruiting landscape of rampant Mediterranean lust, so “very different from the home life of our own dear Queen,” as an audience member observed on seeing Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Cleopatra.

Hence the necessities, to prevent the Victorian gentleman from running amok at the sight of an exposed ankle – another very rude word. Or possibly to allow the expression without incurring censorious public gaze. Either way, it doesn’t say much for the perceived self control of these self appointed guardians of morality.

Word of the Week: Discombobulate

Discombobulate (v): To throw into a state of confusion. Another of those delightful 19th century American words from a time when a new nation created fanciful new variations on Old World English. The energy and heft in the syllables suggests an almost physical tossing of the unfortunate subject into a tangible state of confusion. It’s not nice to do any of these other things, either…especially to bears.

Word of the Week: Cackiavellian

Cackiavellian (adj): Acting in a Machiavellian manner, while being so cack-handed about it that everybody sees through your deception. The worse of both worlds – transparent dishonesty. Usually applied to politicians, as befits a neologism coined for that class. The etymology is brand spanking new, since it comes from the splendid Marina Hyde’s column in today’s Guardian, Rupert Murdoch may be a monster but David Cameron and co are far worse. She is, of course, referring to our “political elite” – an oxymoron if ever I heard one.

Word of the Week: Absquatulate

Absquatulate (v): To leave one’s present location. Or, as suggested by the word itself, go and squat somewhere else. It’s one of those delightful American words that combines Latinate learning with playful inventiveness. I can’t do better than copy the gloss from The Free Dictionary, which explains it beautifully.

In the 19th century, the vibrant energy of American English appeared in the use of Latin affixes to create jocular pseudo-Latin “learned” words. There is a precedent for this in the language of Shakespeare, whose plays contain scores of made-up Latinate words. Midwestern and Western U.S. Absquatulate has a prefix ab-, “away from,” and a suffix ate, “to act upon in a specified manner,” affixed to a nonexistent base form -squatul-, probably suggested by squat. Hence the whimsical absquatulate, “to squat away from.”

Thus, Elvis has absquatulated the building.

Word of the Week: Doolally

Doolally (adj/n): Eccentric, mad, unhinged, insane. A shortened form of doolally tap, referring to a transit camp in India during the the days of the British Raj, from 1858-1947. Deolali housed time-expired British soldiers waiting for passage home, and the boredom is said to have driven some soldiers into odd behaviour. Tap connotes a fever. So the long phrase means something like “cabin fever.” I love this word. Used in the short form, as is common today, it becomes a noun. The line manager at the M&M’s factory went doolally when she found out an employee had been rejecting all the W&W’s.

Word of the Week: Creflo

Creflo (v): To extract money from the gullible. The word is the first name of an American evangelist preacher, who tells his flock that God wants them to be rich. Needless to say, he relentlessly hits them up for donations and sells them a lot of inspirational products. Well, it makes him rich anyway. You can read more about this gentlemen in Blasphemy for the Day: Religion and Political Belief. All I want to add here is that his full name is Creflo A. Dollar – how could I resist the neologism?

Word of the Week: Viscious

Viscious (adj): Depraved and glutinous. This brilliant neologism was unwittingly coined by rtj1211 on March 3, 2012, at 5:04 pm, during a Comment Is Free thread on an article about Rush Limbaugh’s latest bout of verbal diarrhea. It’s extremely rare to get such a precise etymology for a new word. The parent of the bouncing new baby is a dittohead, who points out that “there are right wing journalists in the UK who use the term ‘guardianista’ as a viscious term of abuse……” Clearly, he/she meant to say “vicious” and instead conflated it with “viscous.”

How could I resist? So: Doctors have just diagnosed a viscious mass, weighing approximately 1350 grams, located between Rush Limbaugh’s ears. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immediately issued a public health warning, stating that the condition is infectious, and can be transmitted by sound waves and/or the written word. They point out, however, that only Republicans are at risk. Nevertheless, as a precaution, children should not be exposed to the Rush Limbaugh Show until they’re old enough to think critically for themselves. Side effects may include IQ loss, physical corpulence, addiction to OxyContin, and the public display of enormous cigars as a penis extension.