Saturday, August 30, 2014

`Blorting and Blorting Through the Hours'

Perhaps the least Larkin-esque word ever used by Larkin in a poem: blort. It looks like a typo for blurt or a cartoon sound effect. The OED doesn’t recognize it. Its closest possible cognate in that dictionary is blore, a verb meaning “to cry, cry out, weep; of animals, to bleat, bray, bellow.” In “Faith Healing” (The Whitsun Weddings, 1964), Larkin writes of the women seeking the touch of the faith healer: “…and such joy arrives / Their thick tongues blort.” In that context, I’ve always assumed it meant to make an unintelligible animal sound rather than to be humanly articulate. It carries a hint of sexuality and perhaps is meant to suggest glossolalia or speaking in tongues. In a letter to Anthony Thwaite written in 1960, Larkin says: 

“…blort is intended: it is I think a variation of blore which is a dialect word meaning to bellow (like an animal). I am rather alarmed not to find blort in the dictionary, but D.H. Lawrence uses it somewhere, and I certainly don’t mean blurt, which has a quite different meaning to my mind.”  

Five years later in a letter to Judie Johnson, Larkin says of the word: “It means a thick heifer-like bellowing. I don’t know where I found it—one of Lawrence’s dialect poems I believe.” The editor of The Complete Poems (2012), Archie Burnett, does our homework and locates the word in a laughably ridiculous poem by Lawrence, “Tortoise Shout”: “I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible.” 

Thirty years ago, another reporter and I at an Indiana newspaper played a mildly subversive game. We challenged each other to work obscure, preferably sexually suggestive words into our copy. He covered city government and my beat was courts, so our use of exotic lingo was conspicuous even to narcoleptic copy editors. The rules were simple: Use only real words and use them correctly. I recall only one of them: fream. The OED gives “to roar, rage, growl: spec. of a boar,” with a hint of the sound said animal makes while in rut. The pun on “bore” was irresistible. I used “freamed” as a synonym for the ubiquitous “said” when quoting a judge renowned for the flatulence of his pronouncements from the bench. An editor caught it, asked me if it was a typo for “creamed,” and deleted it. There’s a metaphysical realm reserved for words that exist only briefly and amusingly, and then are gone.


George said...

Supposedly Thomas Hardy once had sudden doubts about a word in one of his poems. He checked the OED, to find that the word was there, but the only citation was from one of his own works from forty or fifty years earlier. This story occurs somewhere in Robert Graves's writing, but I can't now think just where.

Dave Lull said...

David Norton:

Robert Graves, in "The Poet in a Valley of Dry Bones", relates an anecdote that I have always enjoyed: "The exact right word is sometimes missing from the dictionary. Thomas Hardy told me, in 1924 or so, that he now made it his practice to confirm doubtful words and that, a few days before, when looking up one such in the OED, he had found it, to be sure. But the only reference was 'Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, 1874.'"