Graminivorous Tramcollicken.

Via Laudator Temporis Acti, Edwin Muir reports on his cousin Sutherland:

Whenever Sutherland got drunk he began to invent language. I can’t remember now many of his feats in this way, but he liked words with a dashing Spanish sound, like ‘yickahooka’ and ‘navahonta.’ He was so pleased with the word ‘tramcollicken,’ which he invented himself, that he gave it a specific meaning which I had better not mention; but the word became so popular that it spread all over Wyre. From somewhere or other he had picked up ‘graminivorous,’ which struck him by its comic sound, and for a long time his usual greeting was, “Weel, boy, how’s thee graminivorous tramcollicken?”

One wishes he hadn’t been so reticent about the meaning of “tramcollicken” (and one wonders why “yickahooka” and “navahonta” were thought to sound Spanish), but a very enjoyable quote, and I may have to start saying “Weel, boy, how’s thee graminivorous tramcollicken?”


  1. Something to do with collicke (colic) or manure wheelbarrow or….? I don’t know.

  2. I’m guessing it means one (or, ahem, a pair) of the private parts of the human body, but I guess we’ll never know.

  3. Paul Clapham says

    Actually when I read “navahonta” the first thing I thought of was the Ermita de Navahonda, a hermitage which is not far from Madrid.

    (We were there in 2018, but for reasons of birding rather than religion. Our first day out of Madrid, finding birds in typical scrubby wooded areas in the Spanish plains.)

    But yickahooka? Not gonna find that in any Spanish-speaking country.

  4. Actually when I read “navahonta” the first thing I thought of was the Ermita de Navahonda, a hermitage which is not far from Madrid.

    Well shut my mouth! Live and learn. But I agree that yickahooka no es español.

  5. Stu Clayton says
  6. I’ll bet he got “graminivorous” from Gradgrind, as I did.

  7. Tramcollicken = vomiting from motion sickness, particularly on public transport? But that seems too literal and tame compared to the real, unspoken meaning.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    There is a natural association of ideas there, as that is very similar to the sensation you get from a kick in the tramcollicken.

  9. My thoughts exactly.

  10. Stu Clayton says

    I’ll bet he got “graminivorous” from Gradgrind, as I did.

    # Gradgrind asked Bitzer for the definition of a horse and his reply was “Quadruped. Graminiverous. Forty teeth……..” #

  11. Mapache Coatimundi says

    When he tried to order his fifth (or seventh?) Tom Collins, he asked the barkeep for a tram collicken.

  12. A graminivore is a grass eater.

  13. From The Electric Radish and Other Jokes:*

    Q: What’s yellow and blue and eats grass?
    A: A yellow and blue grass eater.
    Q: What’s yellow and green and eats grass?
    Q: A yellow and green grass eater?
    No, grass eaters only come in yellow and blue

    * The name comes from the first joke in the book, which sets the tone for the whole volume:

    Q: What’s red, has a tail, and hums?
    A: The electric radish.

    Also featured were jokes about how hippopotamuses get up and down trees, a caterpillar with a wooden leg, and other things that are absolutely hilarious when you are five.

  14. Stu Clayton says

    When you are fifty:

    Q: What’s read, has a tale, and strums?
    A: The poet with his guitar.

    # I

    The man bent over his guitar,
    A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

    They said, “You have a blue guitar,
    You do not play things as they are.”

    The man replied, “Things as they are
    Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

    And they said then, “But play, you must,
    A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

    A tune upon the blue guitar
    Of things exactly as they are.” #

  15. As of this moment I am yet only forty-five (tropical) years, 35 hours, and 42 minutes old.

  16. Happy birthyesterday!

  17. one wonders why “yickahooka” and “navahonta” were thought to sound Spanish

    CVCVCV(n)CV seems quite prototypically Spanish, phonotactics-wise. I wouldn’t bat an eye at /ʝi.kaˈxu.ka/ in a Spanish phrase, though I’d probably guess it was a borrowing from a language I’m unfamiliar with.

  18. John Emerson says

    Radish jokes are like elephant jokes.

    They both seem more like jokes for sophisticated ten year olds laughing at dumb five year olds though.

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