Friday, 13 June 2014

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates. With a True Tale by way of illustration.


Soo-per-eh-ruh-gate: verb, with no object: to do more than duty requires

Latin: from super, above, beyond or over + erogare, pay out, expend, erogare itself being a composite of ex-, a prefix meaning out or out of, away, from or beyond (and hence thoroughly or utterly) and sometimes meaning not or without, plus rogare, to ask, beg, question or propose.

Related words: supererogatory, adjective; supererogation, noun

A whole host of other words have been formed out of that same rogare root, including: arrogate (to assume or appropriate without asking and thus without right), giving us also arrogatingly, arrogation, arrogator, arrogant and arrogancy; then abrogation (to cancel or annul, the ab- prefix being rather like ex-, away or from); and derogate, derogation, derogative and derogatory (the de- being a negative, so to speak badly of, though it originally meant cursing); prerogative (the pre- indicating before in this case, making prerogative before asking and, by extension, meaning no question about it; often preceded by royal or woman’s);also prorogue, prorogation (to discontinue, postpone or defer (in the sense of asking for approval or consent to), usually a session of Parliament, though when Charles I prorogued Parliament in March 1629 to commence what was known as the Personal Rule or the Eleven Years’ Tyranny, which lasted until April 1640, there was no asking or seeking consent about it at all as he simply used the Royal Prerogative to do it (though we all know what happened to that particular rogue in the end); and, of course, rogue (originally a wandering beggar, the asking here being reduced to begging); on to subrogate and thus surrogate (to put in the place of another, to ask someone to be a substitute, deputy or stand-in); and rogation itself (to make solemn supplication or, in Ancient Rome, to propose laws).

But, disappointingly, not Harrogate, it seems, this being the spa town in North Yorkshire that in a poll of 2013 was voted “the Happiest Place to Live in the United Kingdom” and, not only that, it also finished in third spot for “Most Romantic Destination in the World”, beating off rivals including Paris, Rome and Vienna. We don’t know who came first and second in that one but, presumably, the vote was confined to northerners only, so it could well have been Worksop and Pontefract (where the cakes come from). Just for the record, Harrogate’s name derives from Harwegate (1330s), from the Old Norse, horgr, a heap of stones or a cairn, plus gata, street, making the name something along the lines of “Road to the Cairn.” If ever you happen to find yourself there, Bettys Tea Rooms are highly renowned and worth checking out, though the Betty in this instance is not some pleasant elderly lady with a penchant for baking deliciously light scones but comes from Bettys and Taylors, the company that makes Yorkshire Tea.

Having said all that, you could be forgiven for thinking that this time’s True Tale features that memorable occasion on which a young and freshfaced couple, clearly in the throes of first love, were witnessed wandering slowly around Sainsbury’s in a languid, desultory and highly inefficient manner, speaking very little, achieving even less, and following their trolley wherever it chose to lead them. Finally, as if by passing thought, their abstracted silence was at last broken as she gave voice to her introspective deliberations by casting them into remark.

‘We need some more Yorkshire Tea,’ she said, and then, after a moment or two, during which her expression creased into a portrait of deep and studied cogitation, she added, ‘I wonder if it’s actually grown in Yorkshire?’

But you’d be wrong if you did think that, seeing that one contains no trace at all of either supererogation or even arrogation, whereas this time’s actual True Tale involves both, to one degree or another, concerning as it does a character by the name of – well, for our purposes, let us simply refer to her as Caroline, seeing that was, in fact, her name and bearing in mind that we have no desire whatsoever to protect the guilty herein – Caroline, someone in whom both qualities were almost endemic. She was the curator of a small municipal museum, though the word Commandant might perhaps be more apposite, and certainly more descriptive in her case, being as she was a sturdy, no-nonsense professional whose single goal in life appeared to be the complete annihilation and expurgation of any form of pleasure whatsoever, particularly when it came to anyone other: as far as this particular dingy and dull museum was concerned, her work was already complete. (That the voice of three months’ bitter incarceration therein.) All it lacked was a motto above the door: “Omnes relinquite spes, o vos intrantes.” And we did.

She was, as it so happened, uniquely gifted in one particular respect, and it was this especial and enviable attribute that set her high above and way beyond the common herd. She knew everything. By crikey, didn’t she just? After all, she told us as much often enough. On one occasion, whilst invigilating at the museum and, at the same time, being deeply engrossed in a volume of Steinbeck, in she came and, as she swept magisterially past, happened to catch a glimpse of the title, at which she could not resist giving us the benefit of yet another demonstration of her omnipotent knowledge.

‘Ah! Cannery Row!’ she exclaimed. ‘Is that the one where the doctor’s surgery burns down?’

It seemed rather futile to explain that, actually, one didn’t know yet, not having got that far but, of course and as always, in a few pages time she was to be proven infallibly right once again when the place did go up in flames, which, coincidentally, was precisely the fate one hoped would befall her at that very moment. But where is spontaneous combustion when you need it most? 

Not at the Corporation Fair anyway, which is where we happened to find ourselves some goodly time later, in the park, busily engaged in setting up our various stalls and tents, whilst Caroline took charge of overseeing matters from a strategic (almost suberogatory, dare one suggest?) distance by stamping stiff-leggedly up and down (one refrains from the term “goose-stepping,” though that remains the enduring image of it), barking out the occasional order and looking every bit the consummate master of all she surveyed. But then, into this idyllic scene of pastoral bliss, there happened to wander two specimens of what can only be described as “workmen,” much to Caroline’s undisguised revulsion, bearing between them a portable generator. One of them even had the brassfaced temerity to address her directly, without so much as a tug of the forelock, as if he believed himself to be Wat Tyler or some such.

‘Where do you want this, then?’

The unspoken word, “Love,” that his less than respectful tone so clearly implied hung just shy of the end of that sentence, but we all knew it was there. A tense silence ensued, during which she regarded them with diminishing patience down the length of her nose (which happened to be quite a way to travel, actually), as if she fully intended them to put their infernal machinery somewhere that the sun don’t shine, though it was always exceedingly unlikely that they actually would take it to Scotland. In the end she said little, other than that conveyed by the dismissive and hubristic wave of her hand she furnished them with for their trouble, a gestural ‘be gone with you, little man, we have no requirement of your sort here.’

‘Put it down there,’ were her actual words and, before they even embarked upon the foolhardy offer of, ‘do you want us to set it up, then?’ that was hovering at the spokesman’s lips, she had stayed him with a terse, ‘We know what we’re doing, thank you.’

At which our hapless menials set down their burden and slunk woefully away, with Caroline’s eyes searing into their backs every step of their journey until, at last, she was finally convinced they were gone.

‘Right!’ she declaimed, strutting decisively towards the generator and rubbing her hands together purposefully. ‘Where do we plug it in?’

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