Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Glossary of Glynnese


THE Diary frequently makes use of expressions not to be found in any orthodox English dictionary or phrase-book. They are derived from a family language called "Glynnese," talked by the Lytteltons and Gladstones, children of two Glynne mothers. The scholarly Lord Lyttelton, who, like Mr. Gladstone, seldom or never spoke it himself, compiled a gravely humorous Glossary of its chief expressions, from which, generally in his words, without change though often with omissions, I take the following explanations.


These expressions, which might be continued through the twenty-four letters, are taken from the infantile book called "The Child's Alphabet," in which it will be remembered that, for the assistance of the imperfect memory of childhood, each letter is illustrated by an original design of an individual of a class or profession of which the first letter is the same as the letter in question; and inasmuch as the said individuals are represented in the full appropriate costume of such their class or profession, and inasmuch as, from the homeliness of the execution, their countenances and appearance are invariably of an inexpressive and indistinctive kind, these phrases are used to describe real people who, in the view of the speaker, are mere generic specimens of the class to which they belong: bare types in which the individual and original has been repressed and rubbed out by the conventional and professional .
EXAMPLE. — Mr. Gladstone to Lady Lyttelton: "What sort of person is ________?"
Lady L.: "Oh, C was a Clergyman."

The form in which this is used is always that of a given person being audience, often with an epithet, as "being immense audience." It has no particular reference to the sense of hearing. It seems to be a patient, sympathising, adulating, condescending, and probably half-sincere admiration of something in praise of which the owner rather prosily holds forth. Again, it is to be observed that the person is audience, not to the other person who speaks but to the thing admired. So the author heard Lady Lyttelton say," I went to see and was audience to his pony," not at all meaning that the pony made any noises whatever, but that she blandly listened to commendation of him on the part of his reverend owner.

A significant description of the state of mind previous to some rather formidable undertaking, resembling that of a child about to fall into the arms of the bathing-woman. Mr. Gladstone, so long ago as 1841, had so far advanced in the language that, on being asked how he felt on becoming Vice-President of the Board of Trade, he was able to reply, "Bathing feel."

This is a peculiar and very emphatic ellipse. EXAMPLE.—On entering into a room at Hagley or at Hawarden during one of those great confluences of families which occur among the Glynnese, and finding seventeen children there under the age of twelve, and consequently all inkstands, books, furniture, and ornaments in intimate intermixture, and in every form of fracture and confusion, the experienced "Mother of Millions" (Lady Lyttelton) will find relief in the aphorism, "Well, children are!" . . . This is always uttered as if it was a singularly full and perfect statement to which nothing could possibly be added.

This term ... is a form of ellipse ... of "belief," "description," or some such word. Mrs. Gladstone might say, "Really, teaching Stephy is beyond"; and if the Author is not mistaken, he has heard such an astonishing combination as this: " Went to . . . dinner: beyond stupidissimus."

"Blowing" means some action which, if not overbold, at least requires considerable assurance and self-possession in the person who does it. It always means something done in public. The only possible etymology which the present commentator can venture to conjecture is that it is drawn from the walk of a lady in a high wind with all the inconvenient results of that atmospheric fact. To walk up a long room lined with company is decidedly "blowing"; and the Rev. Henry Glynne, who has a marked aversion to any performance of this kind, would whisper with a wink to his sister that he would avoid having to return thanks for the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese as "much too blowing."

The etymology of this elegant term is sufficiently clear. It indicates any event or circumstance that breaks, or tends to break, the monotony of existence. Its proper and most frequent use is of something of this sort which is agreeable and rousing: yet is this not invariably so. . . . Miss Lyttelton would call the appearance of a new baby, born to one of her numerous friends, "an immense break."

The termination in "ums." A rude and inartificial idiom, for which the authority is the Dean of Windsor. (Hon. George Neville, brother of Lady Glynne, the mother of Lady Lyttelton and Mrs. Gladstone.) The affix ums is tagged on to some substantive or adjective, and the ugly compound is then dragged into some sort of meaning by the aid of the auxiliary verb to have and the definite article the. Thus to have the churchums (a phrase signally and almost exclusively applicable to Sir S. Glynne) means to be much occupied in, and specially to devote much of one's conversation to, the subject of churches. . . . It is perhaps an attempted analogy from some illnesses, or bodily afflictions, as "to have the measles."

These murderous metaphors are indicative of a very harmless meaning. They simply denote amusement. It is not denied that the original derivation of them is from the common English expression "dying of laughter," but in the Glynnese use it would be wholly alien from idiomatic propriety that any expression referring to actual laughter should be joined with these phrases: nor indeed do they necessarily imply laughter.
Examples from Mrs. Gladstone's letters to Lady Lyttelton:" So George (Lord Lyttelton, who was not exactly a smart man.)) was quite a dandy at your great dinner: killing."
"William this morning sang a tipsy song to amuse little Mary: I died."
The boldness of assertion in this last phrase, when used by a person in her usual health, has a curious effect.

This is a precise rendering of the Latin umbra in the sense of an uninvited, or self-invited, guest at a dinner. It is frequent with the Rev. Henry Glynne, who would say, "I went and dined at Hugh Cholmondeley's as a face."

A curious expression used with extreme brevity by the Glynnese. In its special sense it means not merely, as in English, something unfinished, but something unintelligible and of which no account can be given. . . . When a certain Bishop was expected from abroad, and his arrival was long delayed, no one knowing anything about him, Lady Lyttelton said, "So the Bishop is a fragment," which the Author leaves to explain itself.

[Not in the Glossary; but its meaning may be gathered from what Lord Lyttelton says of "no heart" and "bad heart."]
In these expressions the heart is regarded only as the seat of courage or spirit, never as that of the softer feelings. "Such a bad heart" in English means a want of kindness or natural affection; in Glynnese always a want of enterprise or confidence.

Appears to mean rubbish: what is worthless and may be used for very vile purposes.

A very vulgar metaphor for which we appear to be indebted to the Dean of Windsor. The Slang-Dictionary and Epsom-Downs meaning of this word is food, luncheon carried in a basket; from which service that dignitary has attempted to elevate it to mean food for the mind, information, etc., but it has not reached a higher level than to mean "gossip," "news." So, if one of his nieces had been on an amusing visit, he might beseech her to come and sit close to him on the sofa, and say, "Now, my dear, grub, grub."

A term perhaps derived from its own sound or aspect when written. It appears properly to mean dingy, dirt-coloured, mud-and-water-like. But custom seems mainly to confine its use to these appearances when produced by temporary indisposition.

A pleasant colloquialism answering nearly to the English phrase "in full fling," or the like. It is used of any pursuit in which the individual referred to is earnestly and hopefully engaged. It is placed in close juxtaposition with the word denoting the pursuit, and the two together are used in the most violently abridged and anti-grammatical manner.
EXAMPLE.—Mrs. Gladstone to her sister: "I went to the Palace to see Lady Lyttelton. Found her high-gee accounts."

A word of similar meaning to "groutle," except that while "groutle" means necessarily rubbish, "hydra" means what is in disorder but deserves to be kept... The ground of the expression is, of course, that papers, etc., require constant sorting and arranging to prevent their daily increase.

This is a satirical expression indicating a derisive criticism of communications or remarks as limited too exclusively to subjects of narrow and paltry interest connected solely with the place where they may have occurred. The single word is deemed equivalent to a complete sentence, and in fact to imply all the answer which the communication deserved.
EXAMPLE.—Fragment of a dialogue between Lord and Lady Lyttelton on the pier at Brighton.
Lord L.: "I dreamt last night that ________ was to marry ______ and that ______ had got twins."
Lady L.: "Local ! "

The use of the single Latin comparative "Major" as "break major" means merely a great or notable break. It seems to be remotely derived from the designations of boys in an Eton school list, or possibly from the name of the constellation Ursa Major.

This means behaviour, as in English, but with a difference. In English it is used generally as "the manners of the upper classes." In Glynnese it always means the habits of particular people in particular circumstances. So on arriving on a visit anywhere, a Glynnese would enquire, "What are your manners before luncheon here? Do you go out, or what? "

The word maukin, which is in English an abbreviation of the word mannikin, and is often to be met with in familiar compositions like letters, meaning a small figure or effigy, such as Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November, means in Glynnese always a living person, and signifies an unknown individual, one discovered somewhere where his business is questionable, an unexpected apparition: and so is sometimes applied even to known persons in similar situations. . . . A sick person much exposed to the unexpected visits of friends and of strangers was pitied as being liable to a "succession of maukins" coming into his room.

An old woman; almost always an old lady; such an one, when short, faded, somewhat dowdily dressed, and in sad-coloured garments, fragile-looking, of inexpressive countenance, dim-eyed, serious.

An elegant classical similitude with the obvious meaning of a person dissolved in tears. The boldness, however, and originality of the language is vindicated in that this word is not used in the way of resemblance but of actual personification: "I was niobe." It is further to be remarked that, by the best authorities, as Mrs. Gladstone, this word is always written with a small n.

Apparently a corruption of the English word phantom. The sense, however, is essentially different. It signifies generally "an imbecile person," "one incapable of serious and rational procedure." It is perhaps most frequently used of one who has become so by the lapse of time or by an unforeseen calamity. But it must be observed that this complete form is not much in use. The authorities generally substitute for it the expressive initial abbreviation "ph"; not, however, pronounced as one letter, as "f," but in two: "p," "h."

This word is applied to children and means a child brought up too delicately; and so one not ready enough for hard games or the like. It is perhaps confined to little girls. Its etymology is still disputed among the learned. We do not see how any light is thrown upon it either by a reference to the Italian pinto or to any such idea as that the child so described can have pins instead of toes.

This mysterious word, pronounced "pawmpy," is meant to be the French participle pompé, which signifies pumped or pumped out; and so in Glynnese is figuratively applied to mean "jaded " or "exhausted."

The Author believes that this designation means some twaddling little compound, of domestic use, known to ladies, housekeepers and the like, but beneath his knowledge as a votary of philological science. It is applied among the Glynnese to an inadequate medical prescription or more often to letters. A "powder-of-post letter" means a letter full of words but with small sense, and especially one which is so written intentionally.
EXAMPLE.—Mrs. Gladstone: "I sat down and wrote a powder-of-post letter to a tiresome woman who wanted to know all about William's vote on Maynooth."

The metaphor in this word is taken from the game of fives or the like. It always signifies an impression or opinion about A, which may be either person or thing, communicated by B to C. Further, it always means a pleasant impression or favourable opinion; and, moreover, such as B imparts to C without any intention that it should be repeated to A or the owner of A.

These uncouth and barbarous monosyllables . . . describe forms of locomotion. Sag, which is both a verb and a substantive, is said of quadruped, trapes, which is a verb only, of biped, motion.... They both mean somewhat painful and toilsome, and mostly compulsory and unsatisfactory, locomotion. A sag means especially going uphill in a carriage. Every expedition with any of the ancient, skinny, legless, and windless horses which have for many years abounded in the Glynne, Gladstone, and Lyttelton families is a sure and grievous sag. On the other hand, Mrs. Gladstone will inform her sister, as an action of some merit, "I have been trapesing through the mud to my court."

This is, of course, a sporting or a military metaphor. . . . It means rapidly and suddenly to discover or hit upon, especially perhaps something at a little distance; from which definition a remote clue to its derivation may no doubt be gathered by the perspicacious reader. . . . The Dean, as an agreeable piece of intelligence, wrote in a letter: "Last night I shot the Bishop of London in a corner at the Queen's party."

The ground idea of this is of a rather vulgar and silly bride (compare Mrs. Major Waddell in "The Inheritance") who, to show her promotion to the order of married ladies, loses no opportunity of obtruding her wedding-ring. Hence with admirable audacity it is applied to any act of vanity on the part of anyone of any age or sex.
EXAMPLE.—Lady Lyttelton, with great complacency to her husband, "Who shows his ring about his eldest son's Latin?"

These phrases mean nearly, yet not quite, the same. Both mean sitting in expectation of some probable event. To sit tight is, however, to be in eager expectation of an event which is imminent but may fail. To sit cross-legged is to be in patient expectation of one pretty sure to happen, but may be delayed. Etymological considerations justify this view. To sit tight suggests the idea of a person who feels that any movement on his part might hinder the desired event; to sit cross-legged is the posture of composed or resigned expectation, especially of something unpleasant. A lady will sit tight when looking for an advantageous proposal for her daughter; she will sit cross-legged when awaiting a summons to the dentist.

Among the forms of this language is the adoption of the Latin adjective superlative, in which it follows the rules of Latin in the single respect that it indicates excess. In all other points it sets rules at defiance with characteristic audacity, treating the adjective as indeclinable, knowing only one gender, and deriving an adjective superlative not only from English adjectives but from substantives or any other part of speech. Mrs. Gladstone, always preeminent in the boldest inroads on the established rules of language, once said, "I was niobissimus major"; perhaps an instance that in so short a space cannot be surpassed of the violation of grammatical laws. (Lady Frederick in her Diary once speaks of a view as "beyond lovelyissimus major.")

An anomalous transformation of a verb into a noun. "My take" signifies "my particular way," "the course that I consider best."

Perhaps the strongest instance of ellipsis to be found in this highly elliptical language. Its use is confined to Lady Lyttelton, and is by her meant to indicate an extreme opinion of some sort or other about something she has just mentioned; but all the particulars of that opinion are left to conjecture, together with the grammatical complement of the phrase. As thus: "I have been half an hour teaching Albert to write : than which." . . . It is said in a tone of despairing good-humour, and with a sort of combined smile, sigh, and resigned shake of the head.

This word appears to be limited in its usage to young children. It signifies "querulous," "peevish," "disposed to cry."

For this termination see under "Dayums."

A curious idiom, the use of which is confined to those versed in the higher forms of the language and chiefly to Mrs. Gladstone. On a quondam lover talking to her when surrounded by his children and in a scene of former ineffectual declarations to herself, she would say, "I thought who's who and what's what." . . . The difficulty of tracing the etymology of this expression will have been perceived. But it may proceed from such a strong sense of the change that has occurred in the person in question as causes a general bewilderment of faculties and universal suspicion of the identity of men and things.

Means half-dressed, en dishabille, and is used in an adjective manner. It is never "I was like a witch," but "I was a witch." So Mrs. Gladstone, in a letter from Naples, "Seymour Neville came up and found me a witch."

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