Sunday, March 22, 2015
`Look, How You Drumble!'
Not for the first time, Edward Dahlberg teaches me a word I will probably never use: “Perhaps Samuel Johnson was a great man; he was certainly a drumbling one.” This comes in “Allen Tate, the Forlorn Demon,” an essay collected in Alms for Oblivion (1964). Even in context, “drumbling” remained obscure, and the OED is less than clarifying. It’s an old word, at its height of popularity half a millennium ago. Most usages are judged “obsolete” As a noun it means “an inert or sluggish person; a `drone.’” As a verb it can mean “to be sluggish; to move sluggishly.” Mistress Ford uses it in The Merry Wives of Windsor: “Go, take vp these cloathes heere, quickly. Look, how you drumble!” It can also mean “to drone, to mumble” and “to sound like a drum.” Let’s pause a moment and marvel at the musical genius and redundant profligacy of our language. In its third sense as a verb, “drumble” means “to trouble, disturb” and “to make drumly or turbid [muddy].” Dahlberg may have been prescient after all in using so various a word. All of these meanings fit Johnson. He was a sluggish man who labored prodigiously. He was known to mumble as he walked the streets of London, and he reveled in disturbing dispensers of cant.