‘lurgy’ v ‘lhergy’

Some English speakers use the word ‘lurgy’ (hard ‘g’ – rhymes with ‘Fergie’) to refer to an unspecified illness, often used as a convenient excuse to get out of  doing  something unwanted. Dictionary.com states ‘C20: origin unknown’ but Wiktionary attributes it to a Goon Show episode, written by Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, titled Lurgi Strikes Britain. In that episode, lurgi (aka ‘the dreaded lurgi’ is a fictitious condition created by the villains in order to sell brass-band instruments, on the supposed ground that ‘nobody who played a brass-band instrument had ever been known to catch lurgi’. Wikitionary cites World Wide Words, which speculates that Milligan and Sykes derived it from ‘allergy’ (but that has a soft ‘g’), or from the Lurgi gasification process, developed by the company of that name in Germany in the 1930s to get gas from low-grade coal, or from a northern England dialect adjective meaning idle or lazy.

A few days ago, I was procrastinating by repeatedly clicking Wikipedia’s ‘random article’ button. I chanced across the article on Manx English, the  variety of English spoken on the Isle of Man. Among the ‘Modern Anglo-Manx lexicon’ is ‘Lhergy – a hill-slope, or high wasteland. Goin’ down the lhergy means going downhill in life. (from Gaelic Lhiargee or Lhiargagh meaning “slope”)’, citing  A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect (Oxford University Press, 1924). The pronunciation in Manx is apparently not identical to that in standard English (you’ll have to wade through the article on Manx pronunciation yourself) and there’s no knowing how it was/is pronounced in Manx English, but it’s close enough to be intriguing. On the other hand, fertile comic imaginations often create words from nothing. Milligan (whose father was Irish) died in 2002 and Sykes (born in Lancashire) in 2012, so unless they left anything in writing, we’ll never know.

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3 thoughts on “‘lurgy’ v ‘lhergy’

  1. The corresponding Gaelic word would be “learg”, pronounced “lurruck” – the Manx pronunciation would probably be something similar. (The Manx spelling system is based on Welsh, loosely, and I have no idea how to pronounce it. The joke among Gaelic- and Irish-speakers is that you’ve got to read Manx with your eyes closed! – Although both agree that it’s easier to understand Manx speakers than each other)

    On another note, I spell the English word as “lurgey”.

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  2. Even if this word (or any other) had or has a pronunciation in Gaelic, the pronunciation of it in regional English might have been/might be closer to standard English. Among other things, Manx had a voiced velar fricative, which some Manx English speakers would have been/would be able to produce and others not.

    One source of Gaelic words in English is based on questionable scholarship. One of my regular readers/likers/not yet commenters has written a number of posts dismantling a number of claims by a man named Daniel Cassidy.

    Lurgi/lurgy etc originated on a radio program, so without consulting the Radio Times for that day, there was no way of checking the spelling. Wiktionary lists ‘lurgy, lurgey, lurgee, lurgi, lergy’. There are ten plausible spellings – l + ur/er + g + ee/i/ie/ey/y. Wiktionary gives ‘lurgey’ as a Manx word meaning ‘1. (anatomy) leg; shank; shin, 2. pace, 3. (nautical) stem (of anchor)’

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