Wednesday, February 15, 2012

`Unloose Them with My Pen'

Words die, and some deserve resuscitation. Consider bodgery, chosen by David Crystal for inclusion in The Story of English in 100 Words (Profile Books, 2011) precisely because it was stillborn. Crystal writes:

“The history of English contains thousands of words that never made it—coinages invented by individual writers that simply didn’t catch on.”

This useful word gets a single citation in the Oxford English Dictionary. Thomas Nashe asks in Strange Newes (1592): “Doe you know your owne misbegotten bodgery?” The OED defines it as “botched work, bungling,” and suggests it may be a variant of botch. Crystal doesn’t say so, but bodgery is hardly an orphan. The OED includes the verb bodge, “to patch or mend clumsily,” and the noun bodge is “a clumsy patch; a botched piece of work.” Most of the citations date from late in the sixteenth century, though bodger as an adjective shows up in Australia – “inferior, worthless; (of names) false, assumed” – after World War II. (Here is yet another meaning.)

The word echoes its meaning – dodge, hodge-podge, botch, scotch – one proof of its worthiness. It rings in the names of Joe Gargery and the Artful Dodger. Nashe’s prose is exuberant and impolite. He revels in sound and sense. His English, like Shakespeare’s, is irresistibly malleable, like moist clay. On Tuesday I edited a 26-page paper on the removal of debris after natural disasters. The prose was dry and crumbly like old adobe, “botched work, bungling,” as Pound wrote of “a botched civilization.” Nashe writes in Strange Newes:

“If idle wits will needs tie knots on smooth bulrushes with their tongues, faith, the world might think I had little to attend if I should go about to unloose them with my pen.”

2 comments:

ghostofelberry said...

At my university, the handymen were called "bodgits". They accepted it and even referred to themselves so.

ombhurbhuva said...

A bodger was a man who felled wood in managed coppices and having split it using a froe roughshaped it on a shaving horse using a drawknife. He then turned the billets on a pole lathe to near finished dimensions as legs and rails for Windsor chairs and then set them aside to dry fully. I’ve seen the derivation from 'butcher’ suggested by wood workers.