We live in a world of disposable objects. In the last few years, widely circulated images of the garbage pickers on the mountains of debris in countries like India and Brazil harken the arrival of what some scientists are now calling the “Anthropocene,” or the Age of Man. According to a 2011 article in National Geographic, the “stratigrapher’s ” job “is to piece together Earth’s history from clues that can be coaxed out of layers of rock millions of years after the fact.” This article got me thinking…what would one call someone who specializes in interpreting layers of discarded words?
I am constantly scavenging the internet for lists of old words. One of my very favorite books is The Sailor’s Word-Book by William Henry Smyth. The SWB is available as a free a pdf download through Project Gutenberg, and promises hours of geeky entertainment. I can’t recommend it enough.
In “Our Lady of Palabras Perdidas” I imagine a kind of linguistic bag lady, rummaging among the heaps for hidden treasures like a medicine woman looking for healing herbs. She encounters a frail and aging Mnemosyne –the embodiment of memory in Greek mythology and the mother of the nine muses– like one might encounter an artifact on which history is both inscribed and interpreted (i.e., Marjory the Trash Heap).
I don’t remember where I found this list, but it’s a fun one.
Our Lady of Palabras Perdidas
Old yes! But a bobbish yet, I is.
“Vagabunda!” They shout, hands over ears.
“Conservadora!” I says to me kindred scavengers,
Who have taken to calling me, in these times:
Our Lady of Palabras Perdidas.
Their language be but sad, cag-mag
Rummagin’ in Latin shards n’ splinters.
“Nossa Senhora, where came you from?”
“Ahhhh,” and here I point North and East,
With a stick of smooth olive wood.
“When the hills were still young and stupid,
I was married over the broomstick to a quaddy lad.
Many, many years back, he died;
I’ve since grown a good-sized hump upon me back –
A hillock cloaked in gray!” I says.
“I’ve no whingle, and I’m no drumble!” Meh.
I make my way scavenging in the rubbish heaps
For las palabras perdidas – unwanted and fluey
Made Time’s poor orphan,
him but a proud Costermonger!
“But when ye rub ‘em up, make ‘em shine!”
Even such a one as meself, of deep wrine can see
Under the oily tarnish and the stain
Ye know what they says (flourish of me hands)
‘Verba Volant, scripta manent – words fly but writings remain!’
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
In one heap Me found a birdish Burdalane
The last one, poor wee lass, surviving of her kin
Cark, she were, and thought a cumberground
“But now, now dear!” I said. “Our Lady
Will make ye a shake-down of fine feathers
And new spring grass, with whittles of white petals
And draughts from the clear, running brook
Before yer queachy young bones sleepaway.”
Her laughter flowed like music, a sweet rindle
And she kept a small pebble in her mouth
Lest felth become strength – its ugesome successor.
It were by chance me found Mnemosyne
– Beloved Eldmother
And muse of old and wordly women
I pulled her up from her Earth-fast taproots
But she, forswunak and grown lanken
Began to speak but clyted.
Her voice was wantsome from moss and rust
She’d become elden, and dwined
Under a wasted of letters and her long sloom
“These young and fluttersome moffles –
What do they know of a word’s wroth?”
We drank tea and eftsoons she spake again:
“Ne’er a word ran deeper than sewers of ruined cities
Nor does history disturb a taproot or a deep-sea clam.
All language will ever be in the heaps.”
Bobbish…to be in good health
Burdalane … the last child surviving in a family
Cark … to be fretfully anxious
Clyte … An orator who — for want of a word or an idea — suddenly stops in his speech and sits down, has clyted.
Costermonger…a greengrocer or seller of produce
Crine … to shrink, or become smaller from drying up (the diminutive is “crinkle”)
Cumberground … something that’s totally worthless and in the way
Darg … a day’s work
Drumble … Someone who does a thing in a way that makes it clear that he or she has no idea how to do it is drumbling.
Dwine … to pine away or waste away, slowly (the diminutive is “dwindle”)
Earth-fast … “firm in the earth and difficult to be moved”
Elden … to grow old
Eldfather … grandfather, ancestor
Eldmother … grandmother, ancestor
Embranglement … perplexity
Evenhood … equality
Felth … the power of feeling in the fingers
Forswunk … completely worn out with work
Girn … to laugh with anger (instead of with merriment)
Gowl … to weep with anger (instead of with sorrow)
Hardel … the back of the hand (the other side of the palm)
Lanken … to grow thin and lean
Malison … a curse (opposite of “benison,” a blessing)
Moffle … to do something badly and with no idea how it ought to be done
Over the Broomstick….to be married in a folk ceremony, unrecognized by the law
Quaddy … short and thick
Queachy … shaking, quivering
Rindle … to sparkle like running water
Shinicle .. a fire or other light seen from a distance
Sleepaway … to die peacefully and gradually without being sick and without suffering
Sloom — to sleep soundly and heavily (distinguished from “slumber,” which Mackay says is to sleep lightly)
Smeke — to flatter somebody to their face and overdo it
Spuddle — to go about something trivial with a lot of fuss, as if it were tremendously important
Wedfellow — spouse, of either gender
Whingle — to complain
Whittles….vittles, or food
Wofare — sorrow (the opposite of “welfare”)
Wrine — a deep line in the face (the diminutive is “wrinkle”)
And all the old “-some” adjectives, like…
Bendsome — pliable, yielding
Fluttersome — quick, agile, restless
Foulsome — foul, disgusting
Hindersome — holding things back, in the way, delaying
Janglesome — quarrelsome
Longsome — tedious
Lugsome — difficult to move along, heavy
Sweltersome — hot and sultry and close, of weather
Tanglesome — unreasonable in arguments
Ugsome — ugly
Wantsome — deficient, lacking