Die death

A few days ago I posted about the noun life, the verb live and the adjective live, which got me thinking about the noun death, the verb die and the adjective dead. In some ways, these three are easier (for example, there are no overlapping forms like the plural verb and 3sg verb lives (different pronunciations) and the base verb and adjective live (again, different pronunciations), and in other ways they are harder. 

The noun death has the uncountable and countable singular form death and the plural form deaths. The verb die has the forms die, dies, dying (note the change in spelling) and died. The adjective dead has the comparative and superlative forms deader and deadest (which are only ever used metaphorically). 

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eak, nouce and beaurocratic

When I’m not working, I don’t set out to find typos in what I read, but sometimes I just can’t not. I’m re-reading some old books before deciding whether to keep them or sell, give, donate or throw away (I can’t stand throwing away books!). One of these is the story of the British comedy team The Goons. In one chapter, there were three instances of one mis-spelled word and one of another, and I found a third while I was skimming through to find them before drafting this post.

Spike’s time spent eaking out unperformed scripts on his old typewriter would not go to waste.

‘Now most of those tapes lie gathering dust at the BBC. You’d think they would have the nouce to broadcast [them].’ (quoting Spike Milligan)

‘I’m not surprised at the way the BBC eak out an occasional Goon Show recording rather than broadcast a whole series on radio.’ (Milligan)

’Now a Goon Show is being eaked out for a miserable once-a-year airing on cassette. Blind, misguided, beaurocratic BBC.’ (Milligan)

This is a quality production, edited by a woman who used to be Milligan’s personal assistant. It’s easy to say “Haha, you made a mistake in a printed book”, but it’s more interesting to explore the linguistic issues behind them, and I don’t want to name and shame the editor and publisher. Eke and nous are very rare words, bureaucratic is moderately rare, and all three have very unusual spellings. Continue reading

‘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.