"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 31 October 2011

Gone for a burton


In informal British English, something or someone who has gone for a Burton is missing, permanently broken, ruined or destroyed.

The original sense was to meet one’s death, a slang term in the RAF in World War Two for pilots who were killed in action. Its first recorded appearance in print was in the New Statesman on 30 August 1941.

It's exact origin is obscure and many different versions have been put forward. The most favoured is that it was a way of avoiding referring to someone having been killed by suggesting they had only slipped out for a Beer. Burton's being one of the biggest Breweries at that time and Burton-on-Trent being the home of a number of other breweries. In addition, someone who downed their plane in the water was 'in the drink'. (There is also a hint of rhyming slang in there - Burton-on-Trent - went.)

Allegedly there was a series of advertisements for beer in the inter-war years which featured a group of people with one obviously missing, such as a football team of ten players. The tagline suggested the missing person had just popped out for a beer. The slogan was then taken up by RAF pilots for one of their number missing in action as a typical example of wartime sick humour. Whether these adverts ever existed is questionable.

It was quite a common expression in 'my day’ but perhaps it has fallen into disuse becauwe my daughter didn't recognise it when I used it recently. It’s a sad sign when expressions one is still using become ‘archaic’!

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Weasand is another word for the throat; the oesophagus (the throat in general); the gullet; the organ in vertebrates which consists of a muscular tube through which food passes from the pharynx to the stomach.  The word weasand has been in use since before 1000 AD.

Friday, 28 October 2011



Bantling is an obsolete word for an infant or young child. I think it has a lovely sound and that it's a shame it has fallen into disuse.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


A rarely used term nowadays, hymeneals is a noun meaning wedding; the social event at which the ceremony of marriage is performed. It was a commonly used term in Victorian times. In the singular - hymeneal - it was more frequently used to refer to a wedding song or poem.

The hymen is the membraneous tissue that partly covers the entrance to the vagina of a virgin. The word comes from the Greek for membrane and Hymen was the Greek God of marriage.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Inaniloquent means tending to speak profusely; loquacious; garrulous; given to talking inanely; pertaining to idle talk.

I suspect there is a direct correlation between the consumption of alcohol and the increase in inaniloquence!

Sunday, 23 October 2011


I have been reading a lot of Victorian literature of late and quite often have come across the term extinguisher meaning a piece of street furniture found outside the front doorways of the rich and middle classes.

The extinguisher was for use by link men. These were men who carried blazing torches to escort people along the streets. After a party there would be a number of link men waiting at the door for their 'owner'. Once they arrived at their destination they would extinguish their torch on the extinguisher to save it for their next task.

I have looked all over the place in Liverpool but cannot find anthing that looks as though it could be an extinguisher. Were they mobile - bins full of sand or something of that sort? If not I wonder what happened to them all.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Swart - an obsolete adjective meaning dark-skinned; naturally having skin of a dark colour. It could also be used to mean gloomy or malignant.

It was the forerunner of the modern word swarthy - of a dark color, complexion, or cast.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Caitif (fem. caitive) is an obsolete word for a prisoner or captive. It was also used to mean a prison as well as the person it contained.

It was especially commonly used in poetry.


Drollery [droh-luh-ree] is a noun meaning something whimsically amusing or funny;
an oddly amusing story or jest; the action or behavior of a droll, waggish person;

One of the things for which I am noted is my quiet drollery.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


Plash is a noun meaning a gentle splash or a pool or puddle.

It is also a verb {transitive (i.e. used with an object), and intransitive (i.e. used without object)}. As a verb to plash means to splash gently.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Credence table

A credence table or credence-table was originally a type of small table used for storing food before serving; generally a semi-circular table with a hinged top. Oak and walnut were popular woods for credence tables.

In their earliest days they were where the food-taster would check for poison because after he had done his tasting the food was always within sight of the diners.

Nowadays credence table is more commonly used to refer to the table(s) at the front of the sanctuary upon which communion ware, offering plates, or other worship service items are placed; the table or ledge on which the bread, wine, etc., are placed before being consecrated in the Eucharist.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Captious is an adjective meaning marked by an (often ill-natured) inclination to stress faults and raise objections; calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument.

In the divorce court she complained that her husband was constantly captious.
I'm sensitive to captious comments on my blogs.

The adverb is captiously and the noun captiousness.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Inexpressibles - During the Victorian era it was not considered polite for a lady to describe gentlemen as wearing breeches so they were called inexpressibles. Although the word was occasionally used for women's underwear it was far more frequently used for men's outer legwear - breeches or trousers.

By contrast the word more likely to be used nowadays - unmentionables - is far more usually appled to ladies' underwear.

After this, there was a good deal of dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent demonstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him through and through.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens, Charles

I had barely the time, as he made for the cabin door, to grab him by the seat of his inexpressibles.
Falk - A Reminiscence by Conrad, Joseph

A French dictionary defines inexpressibles as follows - Mot anglais dit par euphémisme pour culotte, pantalon, et employé quelquefois en ce sens en français par plaisanterie (An English word spoken as a euphemism for pants or trousers and sometimes used jokingly in this sense in French.)