St. Valentine's Day, St. Nicholas, St. John's wort – each of these is obviously based upon the name of a saint. This week will look at words, both common and unusual, that are based less obviously on a saint or other high figure in church history.
Note: Anyone tempted to groan at the pun, in my title for this week's theme, should be thankful that I did not title it "The Saints Go Marching In."
Lazy Lawrence – an idler
The term may simply be alliterative. But it may refer to St. Laurence, whose feast day falls in the hottest part of summer. It is told that when St. Laurence was burned as a martyr, he told his tormentors to turn him around, being too lazy to turn himself.
Authoress Maria Edgeworth incorporated Lazy Lawrence into a children's fable, Lazy Lawrence; or Industry and Idleness Contrasted, You can enjoy her fable online as the second tale of her book, The Parent's Assistant, or Stories For Children (link is to Guttenberg text).
petrel – a type of seabird
This bird often follows ships, and it flies very low over the water. Sailors named it for St. Peter, who walked on water. Here is the original account (excerpted):
- Dampier, Voyage in The Roebuck (1703) [text appears about 50 lines above the fourth group of asterisks, reading "* * * * * * * * * * From my first setting"
tawdry – gaudy and cheap; also, by extension: sordid; sleazy: her tawdry past)
shoddy – badly made or done; also, vulgar and pretensious; also, amoral, sordid
St. Audrey has given us the word 'tawdry'. The story has several steps, starting with the miracle associated with the saint.
St. Audrey died in 679 of a throat tumor which she considered God's punishment. Some years later, when her body was moved to a new resting place, it was found to be miraculously completely pristine, free from all decay. Bede tell the story in a chapter titled "How … Her Body Suffered No Corruption in the Grave".
– Bede (673-735): Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book IV ch. xix (731)
This legend became a natural marketing hook in the annual local fair commemorating St. Audrey. Vendors there sold cheap cloth to wrap around the neck, in St. Audrey's honor. These were of the low quality you would expect of fair vendors, and were called called St. Audrey's lace.
As to pronounciation, recall that the name the name 'St. John' is pronounced 'sinjin'. So too, "St. Audrey's lace" would have been pronounced 'sintaudrey's lace', which easily morphed into 'sin taudrey lace' or 'sin tawdry lace'. So this cheap lace became 'tawdry lace', creating the adjective 'tawdry'.
The word 'shoddy' (which is not a 'saint word') similarly changed from fabric to a perjorative adjective. 'Shoddy' originally meant a kind of cloth made from recycled wool rags with new wool added.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
It's logical that the French gave St. Peter's name to a certain herb that grows on rocks by the sea. For St. Peter was a fisherman (Mat 4:18), and the name Peter is akin to the Greek for 'rock' (as in 'petrified'). (Thus, Jesus was punning when He said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Mat 16:18)
The French called this plant herbe de Saint Pierre (literally, ‘St. Peter's herb’). In English it is called by the French name 'Saint Pierre', with an anglicized pronunciation.
samphire – a certain plant, growing on rocks by the sea, whose leaves are used in pickles
- Mark Hix, The complements of the season, The Independent, Feb. 19, 2005
odds and sods – (UK; informal) miscellaneous items
St. Mary Magdalen gives us two words.
magdalen; magdalene – a reformed prostitute; (also, a refuge for such women or a reformatory for prostitutes)
[The repentant sinner in Luke 7:37 is generally understood to be a prostitute. It was long thought that the passage referred to Mary Magdalen; today, many denominations take a different view.]
maudlin – with shallow, mawkish sentimentality; also, in the drunken state of tearful sentimentality and effusive affection
[A shortening of the name of Mary Magdalen. She was generally depicted as weeping, and 'maudlin' originally meant "tearful", later evolving into its current meaning.]
I believe the Brits pronounce the name Magdalen as 'maudlin', as in this limerick referring to Magdalen and Trinity Colleges at Oxford:
Who made boast of his daughter's virginity.
They must have been dawdlin'
Down at old Magdalen –
It could never have happened at Trinity.
I have written several limericks that make play of the eccentricities of English pronunciations. Many of them are in the "Ardvark and Armadillo" section of the OEDILF forum, under the "random limericks" thread.
Feel free to take a look though I won't for the moment re-post them here (unless people ask really temptingly, of course. Like Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything except temptation).
Post them in the limericks thread that's already here Richard!
*Puts on best Mrs Doyle accent, hoping there are enough Father Ted fans to make it funny*
Ah, go on.
Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on.
tantony – the runt of a litter; also, the smallest bell in a church; also, one who constantly, obsequiously follows after another
St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of swineherds, and the runt of the litter was called 'Saint Anthony's pig", later shortened to "t'antony pig". I'm not clear if 'tantony' can be applied to the runt of a litter of puppies, cats, etc.
And here is an account of how the "obsequious followe"r meaning arose, with a fine image of the little follower. From Stow's Survey of London (1598 and later): "The officers charged with the oversight of the markets in this city did divers times take from the marketpeople pigs unwholesome for men's sustenance. One of the Proctors of St. Antony tied a bell about the neck, and let it feed among the dunghills, and no man would hurt it, or take it up; but if any gave them bread, or other feeding, such they would know, watch for, and daily follow, whining till they had something given them; whereupon was raised a proverb, 'such a one will follow such a one and whine as it were an Antony pig.'
– Sheri Cobb South, Brighton Honeymoon
bedlam – a scene of noisy disorder and confusion. (root sense: a madhouse)
barmy – odd, eccentric, daft, extremely foolish
[also, the adjective form of barm – the froth on beer, or on a fermenting malt liquor]
England's first hospital for the insane (and, but for an earlier one in Granada, the first in all Europe) was The Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. Two wards for the non-violent insane were named for St. Bartholomew and Abraham.
Many inmates, if released as harmless, would wander the country as beggars, and quite a few perfectly sane beggars feigned lunacy to help their trade. Colloquially, folks called such a daft begger a bedlamite, tom o'bedlam, barmy or abram man – contracted forms of the names Bethlehem, Bartholomew and Abraham.
Note: I take this etymology from Ciardi. Other sources agree as to bedlam and abram man.
But most have other views for this sense of barmy. Some link it with the same meaning of balmy, sometimes deriving the former from the latter (OED), but sometimes deriving the latter from the former (OED Dict. of Etymology). Others derive barmy=daft from the barm=froth on beer.
I am persuaded by Ciardi's account, given of the parallel history of bedlam and abram men. But I've not been able to find data to confirm or refute.