A word I just learned…

… reading an article by Rachel Cooke  in The Week.  (Feb. 7, 2015, pp. 56-57. Originally published in The Observer.)


In a memoir of his 1930s Potteries childhood, The Vanished Landscape, historian Paul Johnson describes his father taking him to see the Sytch in Burslem, an immense stretch of ground composed of clay, black water, mud, industrial detritus and ‘fumigerous furnaces belching forth fire, ashes and smoke.’

I have a fondness for words that are obscure and euphonious, but this one takes the gateau. It’s meaning is clear from the context, but it doesn’t show up in a search of the online OED. And Google returns only a handful of hits – most of them either the Paul Johnson quotation above or this one, from the same memoir:

You went down a steep track to get into Tunstall Station, a cavernous place under a bridge, of smoke-stained dingy brick, dark and fumigerous.

Searching Google Books turns up the Johnson memoir and four other books. Before that search I was beginning to suspect Johnson had invented the word; instead, I’ll give him full credit for keeping it alive.

A word I just learned…

… reading The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1 – Tune In by Mark Lewisohn


Chapter 7 of this remarkable book contains this marvellous description of the Liverpool slang spoken by the future fab four:

“…something good or great was ‘gear’ and stupid was ‘soft,’ and out of fashion was ‘down the nick’ and when taunting or teasing someone you’d shout ‘Chickaferdy!’; and if someone was spineless they were ‘nesh’; and you said ‘Come ’ead!’ (‘come ahead’ for ‘come on’); and ‘Eh oop!’ had many uses, from ‘hello’ to ‘let’s go,’ and ‘lad’ was ‘la’; and an interesting person was a ‘skin’ – so ‘Eh la!’ and ‘Eh oop, la!’ and ‘ ’E’s a good skin’; and where (though swearing was muted on the street because people got upset if they overheard it) ‘stupid get’ (‘stupid git’) or ‘yer daft get’ were OK … and then you said good-bye to your mates with a wacker’s ‘Tarrah well!’”

(“Wacker” being a word for working-class Liverpool males.)