As I enter the home stretch of Piers Brendon’s The Dark Valley (regarding which, see Jonathon’s latest post, Preaching to the converted) I have run across a word heretofore unknown to me. Discussing Churchill’s extravagent renovation of his country house, Chartwell, Brandon says: “He created lakes, dams, waterfalls, fish-ponds, treating his black swans, golden orfe and other creatures with anthropomorphic indulgence.” An orfe is clearly a “creature,” but what kind? A fish, as it turns out, or in the words of the OED “A golden yellow variety of the ide (Leuciscus idus), long domesticated in Germany, acclimatized in England in the 19th c.” Not to be confused with the ancient word orf ‘cattle’ (last used in the 14th century), and still less with orf ‘A virus disease of sheep, cattle, and goats, characterized by a secondary infection with the bacillus Fusiformis necrophorus [now known as Fusobacterium necrophorum], which causes ulcers and scabs in and around the mouth and on the feet or other parts of the body; also called scabby mouth, contagious ecthyma, or contagious pustular dermatitis.’


  1. We put some of those in our pond in England. They are quite common in the sort of places you go to to stock up garden ponds, in Britain at least. I hadn’t encountered the word either until we moved to a house with a pond.

  2. But microbes are so cute

  3. I think the guy is a little harsh on those of us who might, if we happen to glance casually at them when walking past their pond, confuse them for a pustular and ecthymetic viral disease characterized by a secondary bacterial infection. we’re not all ichthyologists, after all.

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