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.