Friday, 25 July 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.


Brag-uh-doh-shee-oh or Brag-uh-dosh-ee-oh. Noun or adjective: an empty, idle boaster; a swaggerer; or the talk of such a person, empty vaunting.

This sumptuously exquisite word, gloriously grandiloquent enough to almost achieve what it actually means, emerged out of the name of a boastful character in Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590), a certain Braggadocchio, this being a pseudo-Italian coinage of Spenser’s (that’s him in the understated ruff) based on the word brag, plus the Italian augmentative of –occio, denoting something large. (Thus a big bragger or someone who brags big.) As for the word brag itself, the provenance is less certain and it may possibly be a fourteenth century variant of bray, meaning to make a sound like a donkey, or perhaps a trumpet, though other sources suggest it comes from the sixteenth century French (who must have found themselves in need of such a term), brageur, to flaunt, which originally meant “to show off clothes,” especially, and bizarrely, the breeches (they did things differently then, it would seem), brague being French for breeches, from the Latin braca, (from which, strangely, we also get the word bracket) via the Old French braguette, the good old codpiece, which suggests more than an element of the flaunting of that item in especial, even if such would appear to be the very job it had been designed to do in the first place.

Whilst the French were busily showing theirs off for all they were worth and referring to them by the (rather braggadocio but still tastefully discreet) term of braguette, we down-to-earth, brutally frank English had no such compunction and called the thing what it was: a codpiece. That is, a piece (a holder or support) for the cod, from the Old English for a sack or pod, which is just about as far down that particular road that delicacy will allow or we would wish to go right now (rather too far, perhaps). Such garmentry has been around since ancient times, depictions having been unearthed on figurines recovered at Minoan Knossos on Crete. In the fourteenth century, men’s hose came as two separate legs worn over linen drawers and, as hemlines rose (yes, girls, we were doing all that way back in the Renaissance), decorum required the addition of a codpiece in the form of a modest triangle of fabric. Until, of course, the blokes, being very much blokes, thought to themselves, “hang on a minute, lads, we may be onto something here,” at which they became ever more shaped and padded by way of emphasis, reaching a peak in size and decoration by the 1540s before (mercifully for us today) falling out of use by the 1590s. Except in Heavy Metal. 

Baguette, you may be relieved to hear, comes from an entirely different root, that of walking stick or little rod.

To our brag can be added the pejorative ending –ard (or –art), indicating someone who does something to excess, such as a dullard (extra dull) or coward (extra cowed) or drunkard (extra drunk), or even a wizard (extra wise), the –ard coming from the Germanic hard, literally hardy or bold, which is the final element in many a Germanic masculine name, such as Bernhard (Bernie the Hard), Gerhart (Gerry the Hard), though, in this case, almost certainly not Everard.

As you may well have suspected already, braggadocio occupies its own fond niche amongst our own personal favourites and, if you’re thinking of adding it to yours also – bear in mind that it probably works better in the written rather than the spoken word, unless, of course, you do happen to be a habitual wearer of a great big hat – you may also want to consider putting another likeminded word into your quiver beside it, which is the almost onomatopoeic fanfaronade, (from fanfaron, another French word for braggart, though they nicked it off the Spanish this time, who were the ones who needed such a word first, it seems), basically a fanfare but with that extra special flourish of flamboyant ostentation added to it. Put the two together, side by side in the same phrase, such as “so much braggadocio and fanfaronade” and you have the perfect weapon with which to describe the outrageous and exasperatingly infuriating antics of some blatherskite blusterer like, say, that fellow in the big hat. Or, in days gone by, the beardy sort in the lacey neckwear. Tread carefully, mind, with braggadocio, as it contains a strong inference, if not of actual untruth, then certainly that of exaggeration to the point of implausibility.

High time now for this time’s True Tale, which is going to sound dangerously like braggadocio (though it’s  no word of a lie – it all happened), seeing it will be necessary not so much to drop names as to veritably scatter them wantonly about as if they were peerages at a New Labour fundraising event. 

Following the Private View of the exhibition by fashionable and highly collectable American artist, Julian Schnabel (thoroughly good bloke, though not above bumming the odd roll-up, mind), those of us who had been privileged enough to have worked on the installation of his show decamped and headed out for the post-Opening party to be held in an exquisitely select and exclusive quarter of Kensington, the like of which most of us will never set eyes on again. Within, there lay a labyrinthine catacomb of room upon room of treasure trove sprawled over endless floors, on the walls of which were hung, amongst others of such ilk, genuine Warhol’s (so we were assured, though you couldn’t actually see much of them, seeing they were thickly wrapped in protective polythene, almost as if they’d been expecting us). 

One only had to spend a few moments in idle discourse with whomsoever chanced to be closest by at that moment in time and, before ever their footfalls had faded away into echo, into the breach would be flung the inevitable and wide-eyed inquiry from a companion as to whether or not we “knew who that was?” To which the answer was generally, “not the first idea, mate.” Though, at one point, we did happen to glance down and there, under our very noses, quite some way under actually, was Mick Hucknall, wafting elegantly by with elfinesque grace before disappearing swiftly into the distance.

Further on, or in, who should we encounter next, propped limply regal and haughtily sublime upon the far end of a huge double bed that had all the appearance of being employed in barricade, as a physical moat, but Miranda Richardson, exquisitely gorgeous and yet strangely underwhelming at one and the same time. Draped close at her side, languid and laconic, was the also-instantly-recognisable figure of Alan Rickman, complete with the usual expression of disgruntled bulldog sucking an outraged wasp, the attitude of the pair together radiating not so much hostility as cool unwelcome, as much as to say, “We are attending the party but we have no wish to become part of it.” 

Even had that not been the case, the first and fundamentally essential rule of all situations involving celebrity, as we all know, is Don’t Annoy Them & Above All Don’t Say Anything That Will Make Them Think You Are An Utter Halfwit. A sagacious maxim indeed and, judging by the deference and distance being afforded to the discontented couple, this was the very thought that now lay uppermost in the minds of all those who had foregathered there. Well, all bar one, that is. At that precise moment, as if summoned by some silent cue known only to himself, into the scenario steps a callow and anonymous youth, brimful of bonhomie and joie-de-vivre, someone of the sort best described as “bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” of the type that can irritate at two hundred paces and yet who has not one whit of sensibility with which to be aware this failing. Naturally enough, and somewhat inevitably, the very first place that his garrulous gaze should fall was on the bed in general and the hapless Alan Rickman in particular, whom he immediately assails.

‘Alan Rickman!’ he exclaims, greeting him like they were old buddies. ‘Don’t you remember me?’

Mr Rickman seems somewhat perplexed by this, and rather less than pleased, the former lugubriousness rapidly heating into a more menacing and all-too-evident lowering. He tacitly, but firmly, denies any and all knowledge.

‘You must remember me,’ insists the newcomer. ‘Surely? You must remember.’

Once more Mr Rickman refutes having had the pleasure with a sour shake of the head. By now, the ether is crackling with tension, the silence everywhere else rigid and breathless. Oblivious to this, the blind man blunders recklessly on.

‘You do remember me. I’m sure you do. It was only the other day.’

Yet again, Mr Rickman is obliged to respond in the negative but our hero is not dismayed in the least.

‘Oh, come on, you must remember me.’ At last Mr Rickman is stirred beyond the monosyllabic:

‘No, I don’t remember. Who are you? I’ve never set eyes on you before.’

‘You have!’ says the youth triumphantly. ‘I stood behind you in the queue at the newsagents’!’