TWO MYSTERIES.

1) A correspondent writes that she was at a Farmers’ Market, where

a Turkish woman in powder-blue hijab came up to my booth and lovingly fingered the tarragon while asking me if I had any “merzhe.” She explained to me that this herb was commonly used in conjunction with rosemary in meat-based dishes in both Turkey and Iraq… I know nothing about it, other than the fact that it looks rather like tarragon… As near as I can tell, it sounded like “merzhe” (MARE-zhe; stress on the first syllable, and the schwa of the second falling off so as to be nearly unheard)… She said that this was the word for the herb in Iraq.

In trying to investigate this I did google up a nice Turkish herb page, but no luck on the merje (which is how it would be written in Turkish if it’s a Turkish word). Can any herbologists out there provide an identification, preferably with Latin binomial?
2) As I approach the end of In Parenthesis, the allusions and difficulties come thick and fast. Here’s one that’s bothering me. On page 161 Jones is describing the motley crew that marched forward with him (or rather his stand-in Pvt. Ball) into German machine-gun fire at the Battle of the Somme, in the insanely slow and formal manner insisted on by the commanding officers:

and two lovers from Ebury Bridge,
Bates and Coldpepper
that men called the Lily-white boys.
Fowler from Harrow and the House who’d lost his way into
this crush who was gotten in a parsonage on a maye.
Dynamite Dawes the old ‘un
and Diamond Phelps his batty,
from Santiago del Estero
and Bulawayo respectively,
both learned in ballistics
      and wasted on a line-mob.

Now, I know Ebury Bridge (that’s EE-bery) is a street in Westminster and the Lily-white boys are from Green Grow the Rushes, O and Santiago del Estero is in Argentina (I’ve been there) and Bulawayo is in Zimbabwe (then, of course, Southern Rhodesia and part of the Empire)… but what is batty? Jones has this note: “Interchangeable with ‘china’ [Cockney rhyming slang for mate]… but more definitely used of a most intimate companion. Jonathan was certainly David’s ‘batty’.” Well, that’s intriguing, but none of my dictionaries, slang or otherwise, sheds light on this. It is, of course, strikingly similar to batty ‘a person’s buttocks; the backside’ and battyman ‘(derogatory and offensive) a homosexual man’ (OED), but those are not only attested significantly later than WWI but of Afro-Caribbean origin—the first citation for batty is:
1935 H. P. JACOBS Coll. Notes Jamaican Lang. (MS) in F. G. Cassidy & R. B. Le Page Dict. Jamaican Eng. (1967) s.v., Wen breeze blow, fowl batty show.
I don’t think this can be the word Jones is using, but I don’t have any other clues. Anybody know? Oh, and while I’m at it, what’s the “House” Fowler’s from?
A nice tidbit I did solve: Jones refers to “rooty and bully,” and while I knew bully was canned (usually corned) beef, I had no idea what “rooty” might be. This time the OED came through; it’s military slang for ‘bread,’ and it’s from (duh!) Hindi-Urdu rōtī ‘bread,’ a word very familiar from Indian restaurants.
1883 SALA in Illustr. Lond. News 7 July 3/3 At least eight years ago I heard of a private soldier complaining.. that he had not had his ‘proper section of rooty’. 1900 KIPLING in J. Ralph War’s Brighter Side (1901) xv. 253 And the ‘umble loaf of ‘rootey’ Costs a tanner, or a bob. 1900 ‘M. THYME’ in Ibid. xx. 316 Bully beef and rooty, and Something’s give me a pain. 1957 M. K. JOSEPH I’ll soldier no More (1960) 14 Hey, Antonio, where’s me rooty? And make it juldy, see? 1959 Listener 5 Mar. 406/1 Eight ounces of ‘rooty’—that is bread.

Comments

  1. batty = batman?
    i.e. a soldier assigned to an officer as a servant in the British army.

  2. Sorry, I didn’t read the post carefully enough. Ignore what I just said.

  3. No, actually I think you may be onto something. It’s not a difficult transition in sense.

  4. My Persian-German dictionary informs me that
    مرزه = Fenchel
    Fenchel would be Foeniculum vulgare, i.e. English fennel. As far as I know, both its leaves and seeds are used as a spice, the latter mostly in pickles.

  5. Addition: مرزه = [marze], based on Junker-Alawi: Persich-Deutches Wörterbuch, VEB Leipzig, 1968

  6. Thanks, that’s got to be it!

  7. I wonder if that woman was actually Turkish since the Turkish word for fennel is rezene. Perhaps an Arab from Turkey, or maybe a Kurd?

  8. Besides, there is almost no way to confuse dried fennel wih dried tarragon by they way they look, although they smell a little alike.

  9. Andrew: that’s a good question, especially when you consider “powder-blue hijab”. As far as I know, blue hijab is more of a Persian/Iranian thing. Maybe Azerbaijani?

  10. Hmm, thats persian too? We don’t use that word for fennel…

  11. I doubt it’s fennel, that’s definitely rezene, as Andrew says. Perhaps sweet marjoram, which is mercanköşk (the first part, mercan, is pronounced something like “MEHR-jahn”) in Turkish, and is definitely used in meat-based dishes and stews in Turkish cookery? Oh, this is making me hungry. Also, I’ve met plenty of Turkish women in light-blue hijab; I think it’s just a popular color.

  12. Roger Depledge says:

    “Christ Church (Latin: Ædes Christi, the temple or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest and wealthiest of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, with an estimated financial endowment of £175m (2003), as well as the cathedral church of the diocese of Oxford” Wikipedia.

  13. Has anyone checked out coriander?
    For future reference, a list of herb and spice names in multiple languages – http://chef2chef.net/kb/index/47-language-spices.htm

  14. Very nice! Here‘s the direct link to chef2chef’s multilingual spice list. It says “Language > Spices,” but I can’t seem to locate the general Language page, which might have other interesting stuff.

  15. May I add a similar request for information? A Greek acquaintance refers to a plant (a herb?) called something like “τζοχι” (/dzohi/, more or less). I’m not sure of the last letter, given how Greek manages /i/; and I’m not sure of the accent, offhand. Any ideas as to the identity of this thing? My dictionaries avail me nothing.

  16. ‘Fowler from Harrow and the House?’: I would hazard a guess that the ‘House’ in question is either the House of Commons, or, more likely, the House of Lords; especially as he’d ‘lost his way’.

  17. I’ll agree with Roger above, the “House” in question is Christ Church.

  18. Yes, I think Christ Church makes more sense, and I’m deeply grateful—I don’t know how I would have figured that out for myself.

  19. The Hat disseminated intelligence is in fine form today.

  20. Graham Asher says:

    ‘batty’ looks like a form of ‘butty’ (“A confederate; a mate. L18.” – New Shorter OED) that the author has changed deliberately to create ambiguity with ‘battyman’. The word ‘butty’ is I believe still in common use in South Wales.

  21. Aha! I think you have it. Here’s the OED entry for butty:
    A confederate, companion, ‘mate’.
    [1802 J. WILSON (Congleton) MS. Let. 17 Apr. to J. Boucher, Butty, going Halves, Chesh. Staff.] 1865 Cornh. Mag. July 36 In the South the tit-lark is known as the ‘butty-lark’, or companion lark, because the cuckoo so frequently lays its eggs in that bird’s nest. 1875 Lanc. Gloss. 63 Butty, a confederate.
    But I doubt Jones ever knew what would then have been an extremely obscure bit of Jamaican slang; I think rather that he was reflecting the form of the word he heard in the trenches. Slang terms can vary considerably at different times and places.

  22. “…Fowler from Harrow and the House who’d lost his way…” The House, here be a segment or division of ‘arrow, as the Lads from the BPS joined the Kitcheners Call to Arms en masse and staid to-gether and were gassed and to died to-gether.
    The 6 formers, formed there own Platoon, as it were oouting on to the playing fields of Winchester,Eton etal.
    Each Ecole was divided into houses with A House Master and a Nurse to keep an eye on younger boys.
    Off hand I cannot remember the house names.
    BPS bludy Publick Schools.
    Diamond Phelps his batty,[his batman, and char preparer, polisher of his Sam Browne and swagger stick.]

  23. PS for those that need to Know there be !! ‘ouses now. read all about them Here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houses_of_Harrow_School
    1 Bradbys 2 Druries 3 Elmfield 4 The Grove 5 The Head Master’s 6 The Knoll 7 Moretons 8 The Park 9 Rendalls 10 West Acre 11 Gayton 12 Garlands

  24. But it wouldn’t make much sense to say “Harrow and the House” if “the House” could refer to any one of the houses at Harrow, would it? It seems to me that “Harrow and Christ Church Oxford” (where presumably many Harrovians went on to study) makes better sense here.

  25. “..to say “Harrow and the House..” Loyalties be to house first then to school, then to Country.
    Many of 6th formers were so gung ho that they forewent the days at the camox , answering Kitcheners call. Remember the first Two years of WWI, they were all Volunteers, then the rest were conscipted as they so many were removed from the ranks lo and Hi. The casualities of subalterns was extremly high, many a Batman like his job as he did not get his boots muddied, as their young Masters charged over the gofer holes created by the mighty big Bertha.
    House makes most sense as in, they shared the same ideals. There were plenty of comradery by all, as they were from the same flock the lowers with lowers from same street and the betters be in the same team of XV or II.
    My favourite poem
    .Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori

    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.
    http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/themes/englishlit/wildfredowen.html
    THE GOLDEN BOY
    IN times of peace, so clean and bright,
    And with a new-washed morning face,
    He walked Pall Mall, a goodly sight,
    The finished flower of all the race

    Gay as at Eton or at Harrow,
    Counts battles as by goals and runs
    God keep him from Death’s flying arrow
    To give his England fighting sons

  26. Hmm, I see what you’re saying. “Harrow and the House,” where the House is your particular, special bit of Harrow, the group you’re most intensely loyal to. Now I’m leaning toward that interpretation.

  27. Who will it be to weave the whole thread into a unity, with a discussion of the names for tarragon at Harrow?

  28. Ah, the harridan who slathered on the tarragon at Harrow…

  29. re Harrow and the House – I took it to be Christ Church too.
    Re marze and the like, I asked a Turkish friend who’s both a linguist and a very good source of Turkish cooking knowledge (both in the academic and practical sense! I wish she still lived closer so I could have dinner at her house more often!) and she said it wasn’t Turkish, but was probably Kurdish. She’ll investigate and let me know.

  30. The plot thickens! I can’t wait to hear what your friend says (and that’s a very good combination of attributes to have in a friend…).

  31. Ah, the harridan who slathered on the tarragon at Harrow…
    …and, er, spoke of a plant called “τζοχι”?

  32. Yes, come on, people, I know you can solve noetica’s problem as well! Qu’est-ce que c’est le tzokhi?

  33. Update: probably not Kurdish, and not Azeri, Tuvan, or Kazakh.

  34. According to Gernot Katzer, مرزه / Marzeh is Farsi for Savory:
    http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Satu_hor.html

  35. Update: probably not Kurdish, and not Azeri, Tuvan, or Kazakh.
    Er, what’s wrong with Farsi?

  36. Just to add a comment from an Oxbridge inmate; it is almost certainly his house at Harrow and not Christ Church. Several colleges at both Cambridge and Oxford are known as ‘the house’, including Peterhouse (never Peterhouse College, always just Peterhouse) at Cambridge. While fellow students at the college would refer to it as the House, when talking to outsiders, the full name would be used. Same with Christ Church.
    Batty is also certainly a reference to a bat-man as well.

  37. Thanks very much!

  38. Batty = friend. Welsh slang. More commonly, butty.

  39. And we still haven’t found out about τζοχι/tzohi! Poor Noetica…

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