Hope You’re Kedge!

Joe Gillard’s “14 Colonial-Era Slang Terms” is just another of those lists of fun words, but hey, they’re fun words, and I enjoy this stuff:

1. Kedge

What It Meant: Doing well

In you lived in a country town in Colonial-era New England and someone asked how you were doing, you might have replied, “I’m pretty kedge.” It’s a bizarre but wonderful term that essentially means in being in good health—but it also kind of sounds like something a teen in an ‘80s movie would say.

4. Scranch

What It Meant: To crack something between your teeth

Though this apparently “vulgar” term sounds like it was named after what it sounds like to crack something with your teeth, it supposedly comes from the Dutch word, schransen.

14. Circumbendibus

What It Meant: Roundabout

Of all the ways to describe something unnecessarily roundabout— like someone telling a rambling story or taking a weird road when driving somewhere—this word, which dates to 1681, might be the most delightful. It also shows how much we fun we had and still have with language, combining prefixes and suffixes to make new words.

Some of them don’t really seem to belong on the list (shaver was current in my youth, and I’ll bet there are still people who say it), but that last one is a magnificent example of the rumbustious grandiloquence that has always appealed to the American soul, and I’ll try to remember to start calling things “circumbendibus” myself. Thanks, jack!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The OED gives kedge as ‘East Anglian dialect’, with a first quotation (spelt ‘kygge’!) going back to 1440 – which is not to take anything from New England, but it’s interesting how local dialect travelled and became local in another place.

    (I know it as a word for a light anchor, but I think that’s unrelated.)

  2. ‘Shaver’ was familiar to me too, from Olde England in the 60s. Also ‘Adam’s Ale’ (which makes me think of smug, self-righteous teetotalers) and ‘jollification.’ I know of Simon Pure, although it’s not a phrase I can imagine myself using and I didn’t know the origin.

    If a person is indulging in a hygge lifestyle does that make them kygge?

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Catspaw, macaroni, Adam’s ale, shaver, jollification, Simon pure, and circumbendibus are all perfectly familiar to me. Good thing I don’t show my age. My child bride (still in her first century) tells me I don’t look a day over a hundred and fifty.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think of “cat’s paw” as being even a little bit archaic or obsolete although maybe that’s just because I’ve been exposed to it as lawyer’s jargon? This U.S. 2010 Supreme Court decision does feel obligated to explain exactly what a “cat’s paw” case is in the context of employment discrimination law, and the late Justice Scalia then drops a footnote with some lexicographic history: “The term ‘cat’s paw’ derives from a fable conceived by Aesop, put into verse by La Fontaine in 1679, and injected into United States employment discrimination law by [Judge Richard] Posner in 1990.”


  5. AJP Crown says

    whenever English finds a new home, it often takes on a new life. America was no exception. Here are 15 slang words that were recorded in and around this period of American history.

    Dictionary of Americanisms. A glossary of words and phrases, usually regarded as peculiar to the United States

    They’re good words but there’s no evidence they originated in the colonies, is there? They’re just unusual or archaic English words. Anyone middle-aged or older from Britain or Ireland would recognise at least some (see the comments above, chuffy is huffy presumably, shaver & jollification were common when I was young etc.) – I didn’t check them all but the OED citations for circumbendibus are from Dryden, Pope, Oliver Goldsmith, Jeremy Bentham & Sir Walter Scott. Susanna Centlivre’s play A Bold Stroke for a Wife is English. What’s going on?

  6. Not part of Colonial Era New England vocabulary: the bendy bus.

  7. John Cowan says

    it’s interesting how local dialect travelled and became local in another place

    In this case, it’s because the dialect-speakers went from East Anglia to settle New England. The two varieties have drifted apart, of course (as has the dialect of the Maritimes), but they probably had much more in common in the 17C. Dialect Blog post with video clips.

    They’re good words but there’s no evidence they originated in the colonies, is there?

    A much better source is Mencken’s American Language in the section called “Sources of Early Americanisms”. This is the first edition of 1919, and can’t be used uncritically: some of the etymologies are wrong, some words have been pre-dated since, and Mencken tends to assume that if British critics denounced a usage as an Americanism, it actually was one. But if he says a word was in use in America, it almost certainly was.

    The following sections, “New Words of English Material”, “Changed Meanings”, and “Archaic English Words” may also be of interest.

  8. Jen is likely right that there’s no link at least not demonstrable, to the light anchor called a kedge, though one could find a speculative one.

    It still seems like a good opportunity to mention a favorite historical scene—the kedge and haul drama of the USS Constitution.

    I’d love to see it filmed one day, the American sailors screaming Let’s get out of here, the Brits After them, boys, and then off they go at 1/4 mile per hour, a deadly but still farcical chase to open the farcical War of 1812.

  9. They’re good words but there’s no evidence they originated in the colonies, is there? They’re just unusual or archaic English words.

    Well, one doesn’t go to clickbait lists for historical accuracy.

  10. When I first studied Latin as a teenager, I found the third declension -ibus suffix odd and entertaining. I’ll presume to think that so did many others in the centuries when Latin was taught to youngsters, and used it to make up funny words. To further support that, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt calls his buddy Paul “Paulibus”.

  11. David Eddyshaw says
  12. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I recently read a short story collection called the Margery Allingham Minibus, which I thought was a nice pun, although it does depend on knowing that a bus was also once an omnibus.

  13. AJP Crown says

    Thanks for the Mencken link, John! His book is far from perfect – seriously, no haystack before the colonies? anyone from the British Isles would just know that’s wrong (and it is, the OED has citations from the 15th & 16C); and he seems to take it that English words after c.1700 have been coined in N. America unless proven otherwise, whereas I’d assume the opposite (and words were coined in Ireland, Australia & India, for ex.) – but it’s all very interesting and helpful for spotting differences that have caused me slight confusion from time to time: corn, or whether boots are boots, for example, and tan shoes rather than brown shoes, or what a caucus is; and there are many 19C words that I’d no idea were American. The datedness is fun too: American buncombe spelling vs UK bunkum or dreadnought vs dreadnaught. I noticed Char, as a noun, disappeared from English a long time ago, but it survives in American as chore., because yesterday someone in a film said char-person for a house cleaner. Charlady was an everyday word in England when I was growing up.

  14. AJP Crown says

    Would anyone be interested in the opinion of the man in the Clapham minibus? It’s less convincing; like he’s on his way to Gatwick, leaving the country for tax reasons. I remember a library book The Biggles Omnibus, which I thought was an odd name because Biggles wasn’t a bus driver.

  15. http://www.poetry-archive.com/g/motor_bus.html

    A nice illustration of the traditional pronunciation of Latin, with the vowels having their English values.

  16. John Cowan says

    yesterday someone in a film said char-person for a house cleaner

    Yes, chore and char are doublets from Middle English chare, a Common Germanic word ‘turn’. So a chare was a turn of work, a shift, something you did for a while and then were relieved by someone else. This semantic development is unique to English: the cognates are all closer to ‘turn’, like Dutch keer ‘turn, time, occasion’, German Kehre ‘turn, bend’ and umkehren ‘return, reverse’, and Greek gyros ‘whirl’.

    Back to English. A char became an odd job, especially one involving drudgery. By the evidence, chore is specifically Devon and to some extent the rest of the southwest, and passed over to America, where the Midlands/Standard version char was lost. Char spawned a verb, but the corresponding verb chore has been lost.

    As for charlady, it’s common that a word long since lost survives only in a compound. For example, the -lock in wedlock has nothing to do with locks; it is an old suffix meaning ‘activity, action’. Wed in Old English meant ‘pledge, vow’, so wedlock was the action of pledging something, which was quickly restricted to pledging to marry. Only later did it come to mean ‘state of being married’. However, this -lock does have relatives: like is one, and laik ‘to play, not to work (voluntarily or involuntarily)’ is another, now preserved only in the North of England.

    Sixth and lastly, there is another relative of chare still with us: ajar. A door that is on chare harks back to the sense of ‘turn’: it has been turned out of the normal position.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    I think you may be missing a very common usage of kehren in Germany, as in the celebrated Kehrwoche in Swabia

  18. AJP Crown says

    Not to mention Verkehr. And verkehrt and Geschlechtsverkehr. At first sight it’s tough to see any connection (and from that very good little text I still don’t understand why a Schornsteinmäntel would be the German for BOTH a silk turtleneck AND a chimneypiece). Schornstein is chimney as far as I’m concerned, and silk is seide.

  19. ktschwarz says

    Umkehr, kehren, etc. previously at Language Hat.

  20. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Wedlock has always confused me in a different sense – when I was little I thought that a child born out of wedlock was one produced from a state of marriage, presumably on the model of a pot made out of clay or a table made out of wood, and I still sometimes need a tiny pause to check I’ve read it the right way round.

  21. AJP Crown says

    Thanks, kt. I see that Schornstein = silk is meant as “a joke”. Thanks for wasting my time guys, that’s the last time I’ll look at that website.

    Wedlock, as in “out of”, is an unpleasant word that ought to have a big OBSOLETE next to it in dictionaries.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t know. If I’d been born out of wedlock I would make a point of using that very phrase whenever the matter arose. It’s got a ring to it.

  23. Trond Engen says

    I was told I was born out of boredom.

  24. Greek gyros ‘whirl’

    Probably not related to chore. γυρός is of uncertain etymology, but the -υ- doesn’t line up with the Germanic forms.

    (I now realize I’ve always mentally eggcorned charwoman as meaning something like “woman who cleans the charcoal in the fireplace” and associated them with Victorian chimneysweeps.)

  25. David Marjanović says

    …which brings you full circle to the correct etymology, because sweeping is clearly involved! That’s the most common meaning of kehren today.

  26. AJP Crown says

    de: I would make a point of using that very phrase whenever the matter arose. It’s got a ring to it.
    As far as I know there’s little or no stigma now that one-parent families are common and all that’s left of the old social & bureaucratic apparatus of discrimination is redundant words and phrases: bastard, illegitimate, out of wedlock etc. The actual state of one’s parents’ marriage (divorce, in my case*), or lack thereof, is no longer of interest to anyone. The pun is tempting but I can’t see any advantage in reviving them.

    * Divorcées were socially suspect even when I was I child, so I’m told. My headmaster had the impudence to ask my mother at the interview, when I was about ten (so in 1963-ish**), “Is he a latch-key boy?” She told me later she’d had no idea what the term meant; she’d only known the correct answer was probably “No”.

    **Literally down the road at the time Stephen Ward was appearing at Marylebone magistrates’ court in the Profumo case.

  27. It’s got a ring to it.

    (Insert here any Jerry on the Job final panel.)

  28. Jerry on the Job is a goldmine of 1920s slang. “Candy gab”? In one strip the boss also says “savvy?”.

    Do people still use “cinch” in normal conversation?

  29. As in “it’s a cinch”, yes.
    Comic strips (and later, underground comics) are an excellent source for slang in general. As far as I know they have not been systematically mined, not even by Jonathon Green, and of course they don’t appear in OCRed corpora like Google Books.

  30. Divorcées were socially suspect even when I was I child, so I’m told. My headmaster had the impudence to ask my mother at the interview, when I was about ten (so in 1963-ish**), “Is he a latch-key boy?” She told me later she’d had no idea what the term meant; she’d only known the correct answer was probably “No”.
    I remember people still tut-tutting about divorce, people living together unmarried and about single mothers in the 70s. These things stopped being anyone’s business (except relatives and friends) at some point in the 80s.

  31. AJP Crown says

    And like gay-les etc. have gone from not being anyone’s business in the eighties to being an accepted norm for many people today. Sic transit Gloria and the girls.

  32. Yes, the eighties were an astonishing mix of cultural progress and political barbarism, both of which continue to exert their effects today.

  33. “woman who cleans the charcoal in the fireplace”
    I thought this too. But not charcoal. I thought of char meaning stuff that’s been charred, or burned. So in my folk etymology the charwoman would clean up the ashes. Happy to learn of my error.
    Charcoal is a fuel, not a waste product. It’s carbonized wood – wood heated in the absence of oxygen, to drive out moisture and other substances that will volatilize, leaving almost pure carbon. So it’s manufactured coal. Used to be used in metallurgy (e.g. a blacksmith’s forge) because it could be made anywhere there are trees and it burns much hotter than wood. Today used to grill steaks (at least in developed countries – in under-developed countries, still used for heat and general cooking, much to the detriment of forests).
    The etymology of charcoal is obscure. Until now I thought the idea was that wood had been “charred” – burnt or heated – into coal. But actually it might be from char meaning, as noted above, “turn” – wood that’s been turned into coal.

  34. OED (from 1889) says:

    Etymology: The first element is of uncertain origin; from the earliest instances it appears to be char; charke, cherke, found from beg. of 16th cent., being apparently due to erroneous analysis of the spoken word, and having no independent origin or meaning, though afterwards (in 17th cent.) used as an independent word. A current suggestion is that char- is an application of chare v.1 or chare n.1, as if turn-coal, i.e. wood turned or converted into coal; but for this no actual evidence has been found.

    The name ‘coal’ itself originally meant ‘charcoal’ (collier being a ‘charcoal-burner’), and no satisfactory explanation appears of the introduction of the name charcoal in the same sense, especially as there is no contemporary reference to ‘earth-coal’, ‘stone-coal’, ‘pit-coal’, or ‘sea-coal’ (as mineral coal was, for various reasons, called). See coal n.

  35. AHD:
    [Middle English charcol : char (perhaps from Old French charbon, from Latin carbō; see CARBON) + col, charcoal, coal; see COAL.]

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    The new and improved euphemism for the Children Formerly Known As Illegitimate that is now used for legal purposes in New York (and I believe a number of other U.S. jurisdictions) is “non-marital children.”

    I first became acquainted with the BrEng “charlady” when reading in my youth Paul Gallico’s Mrs. ‘Arris books, but I admit to my chagrin I never became curious about the etymology and was perfectly happy to treat the “char” as an opaque mystery like the “cran” in cranberry.

  37. Charles Perry says

    In my great-grandfather’s memoir of the Gold Rush (The Gila Trail), he recounts a hostile encounter with Yumas. The Texans in his party, experienced with native warfare tactics, took position behind trees and began firing their rifles, but a group of Bostonians (“as green as greenness on the prairie”), relying on their experience in militia musters, formed “such a winding, circumbendibus line [as] was perhaps never before or since seen.”
    So there it is, circumbendibus.

  38. AJP Crown says

    That reminds me that John’s Mencken book says:
    Such common English geographical terms as downs, weald, wold, fen, bog, fell, chase, combe, dell, heath and moor disappeared from the colonial tongue, save as fossilized in a few proper names. So did bracken.
    Mencken should have mentioned American cranberry bogs, (which seemed to me like an odd place for cranberries to grow until I saw Norwegian tyttebær and multe growing in boglike areas).

  39. Bathrobe says

    Is ‘jollification’ really dead? It sounds perfectly ordinary to me.

  40. AJP Crown says

    It’s just an ordinary word. I suppose if we are still using it, by definition it’s not dead

  41. @AJP Crown: I noticed when I was a child that a lot of terms for rural landforms and terrain types had apparently disappeared from American English, while remaining in unremarkable use in Britain. Some of the terms, such as fen, bog, dell, and moor, are familiar enough in America; they are not commonly used, but are readily understood. Others, including downs, wold, and combe, are much more exotic, and I had to look them up when I encountered them in British writing. (For downs and combe, I specifically remember looking them up when I read Watership Down.)

    The theory I eventually developed for why so many terms for rural terrain had vanished from American English was that a lot of undeveloped places in America got Indian names (or other foreign names). I don’t know whether this is accurate, but it was the best guess I could come up with.

  42. AJP Crown says

    @Brett, Right. Also a lot of British expressions just aren’t appropriate for the American landscape, they’re so different. There’s really nothing like even New England in Britain let alone the landscapes that got names later, the Rockies or out West. It’s surprising to me that more German or Scandinavian landscape words haven’t been used, though. [Waits for John Cowan to mention a few.]

  43. David Marjanović says

    In his capacity as Ersatzkaiser, the Austrian president retains the power to legitimize illegitimate children. This is dead letter, however, because there aren’t any laws left that would make a difference out of this distinction.

    collier being a ‘charcoal-burner’

    Oh, so that’s why some coal mines had “Colliery” in their names!

    It’s surprising to me that more German or Scandinavian landscape words haven’t been used, though.

    Spanish ones: canyon, mesa, arroyo…

  44. Bathrobe says

    The same goes for Australian English. There are rivers and creeks. ‘Brook’ and ‘stream’ are not used for watercourses, although they might be found in place names. Dry watercourses are gullies. (No gulches.) Similarly for ‘downs’ (preserved in ‘Darling Downs’ but not used anywhere else). Anything waterlogged is a swamp (or maybe a marsh).

    There are no woods or forests; only bush and scrub. Both have connotations of wild country that settlers would have wanted to clear. ‘Copses’ of the tamed UK landscape are insignificant — just a few trees that weren’t chopped down or a ‘stand of trees’.

    I don’t think the word ‘jungle’ is even used. Some areas have names like ‘mallee’ or ‘brigalow’ based on the vegetation found there. The scrub has been renamed ‘rainforest’ in recent times representing a different, ecologically friendly way of looking at these habitats, as opposed to the old settlers’ ideas of a nuisance that had to be cleared.

    I think that this has a lot to do with the different naming practices from the Old World. The physical conditions (wild, uncultivated country) and mentality (‘we need to clear and develop this’) led settlers to use different words from what they were familiar with back home.

    I suspect that some of these naming practices are from North America, which was settled first. ‘Bush’ is certainly used right across English-speaking areas (Canada, South Africa, Australia), outside of the UK and Ireland, where it refers only to a shrub. According to the Internet, the sense ‘uncultivated country’ is probably directly from Dutch bos.

  45. There may be another issue with some of those words—moor, heath, wold, and maybe downs—that they tend to refer to wild, uncultivated but unforested land. That kind of terrain did not exist much on the east coast of North America, where the wild country was originally heavily treed. (It was originally heavily treed in Britain too, but that requires us to go back in time to well before Modern English.) Australia does not have that much forest either, but for different reasons than Britain, so that probably affected the development of terrain names there as well.

    Bush, mentioned by Bathrobe, is also a funny one, since it is used for wild lands in most of the English-speaking countries apart from the British isles—but it is not used in that sense in the United States, either. To me, for example, that sense of bush seems to mean wild terrain in either Australia or Africa, maybe Canada, but certainly not the U.S. or Asia.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    “Bush” is usual in anglophone West Africa for “back country”; French “brousse” is used in just the same way. It basically means anywhere that people like oneself don’t live: Twi obroni “European” is etymologically “bush person.”

    Kusaal says mɔɔg “grass” for this, as (mutatis mutandis) do other Oti-Volta languages.
    (Mɔɔg “Mossi kingdom” is most definitely not the same word, and doesn’t even sound like it to Kusaal speakers: it has low tone instead of mid, which is effectively the same as having different vowels. I had an argument with Tony Naden about this: he can’t hear tones. Nobody thinks the Mossi are “bush people.” Especially not the Mossi.)

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    Lingala mosɛnji is similarly not “a person who lives in the wilderness” but “a yokel”; the dog breed “basenji” are not wild dogs, but redneck dogs.

    There’s a separate Kusaal word wɛog for what in local English is called “deep bush”, i.e. where no people live at all; the same root appears in wɛɛd “hunter.”

  48. John Cowan says

    These things stopped being anyone’s business (except relatives and friends) at some point in the 80s.

    My father-in-law cut my daughter out of his will because she had had an illegitimate child, and this must have happened between 2008 when said child was born and about 2014 when said f-i-l died. Some old farts are more woke than other old farts. (I hasten to add that as a Yankee in the South he was perfectly sound politically.)

    It’s surprising to me that more German or Scandinavian landscape words haven’t been used, though.

    Bluff ‘steep cliff rising directly from a river bank’ is probably Low German, but I don’t know the route by which it got into American English: it might have been directly from settlers, or indirectly via Scandinavian. Prairie is French, of course.

  49. “The Bush” in Australia refers to areas away from the major cities and their manicured environs. A person from these places might be called a “bushie”. Whether this is pejorative or not depends on your point of view, I think.

    I was once asked in a country town (Goomeri to be exact, pronounced gɘˈmɛriː) whether I was from the Bush. I had to pause. The place where I come from is not that far (70 km?) from a big city but was originally — say 70-80 years ago — definitely considered the Bush. It has since gradually been transformed into a seaside holiday and general scenic area: tourists come, old people come to retire, and some people even commute to the city to work. A lot of agriculture has disappeared to be replaced by lifestyle blocks. So I said no, I didn’t come from the Bush.

  50. Incidentally, the term “bush meat” isn’t confined to Africa. It also appears to be used in Asia, although whether this is an old or a modern usage I can’t say.

  51. There are no woods or forests

    Sherbrooke Forest lies at an altitude of 220-500 m within the Dandenong Ranges, 40 km east of Melbourne, in Victoria, Australia, close to the suburb of Belgrave. The vegetation is classified as wet sclerophyll forest with the dominant tree species the mountain ash, Eucalyptus regnans, the tallest flowering plant in the world.


  52. David Marjanović says

    not that far (70 km?) from a big city

    Australia, where everything is bigger than in Texas.

  53. AJP Crown says

    This says of ‘the bush’,

    The countryside area of Australia that is less arid and less remote than the outback; loosely, areas of natural flora even within conurbations.

    which is something that had never occurred to me. But I never heard anyone use the word ‘outback’ in the bush, only in the city. ‘In the country’, the English usage, was the usual way to talk about rural NSW & Queensland when I was there.

    That link has a lot more about ‘bush’. I’m sure I was reading the other day somewhere that ‘the bush’ was thought to have been brought to America & South Africa around the same time by Dutch settlers and from S. Africa to Australia. I can’t remember where it was so I’ll stick with the Wiki explanation – a bird in the hand, etc.

  54. Sherbrooke Forest 40 km east of Melbourne.
    Sherbrooke Forest is a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia.

    SherWOOD Forest, Sheriff of Nottingham. Bloody world’s gone mad again.

    “close to the suburb of Belgrave”
    Melbourne has a reputation for being a bit snobbish & English, perhaps a bit like Boston, Mass. before the Irish showed up. So they would use a noun like Forest, innit. ‘Belgrave’ is a street name, not an area. It should really be Belgravia since it’s apparently named after the cream stuccoed expensive part of London next to Buckingham palace, owned by the Duchy of Westminster and built by the very great Thos. Cubitt who practically invented the catalogue of factory-made prefabricated building parts and whose death so upset Queen Victoria (it’s always upsetting when the contractor dies halfway through building your house, Osborne in this case).

  55. This conversation about geographical and environmental terms is quite enlightening. Here in British Columbia the bush is anywhere away from urbanization; recently, when I read that someone said ‘in the bushes’ I new that he was from some big city. I grew up hearing ‘woods’; ‘forest’ sounds quite pretentious, as does ‘forest bathing’. Before I heard it, I read it in articles from California; the concept comes from Japan, where they say ‘forest washing’, apparently.

  56. If I had edited properly, I would have deleted ‘quite’. Twice! It must have been the word ‘conversation’ that allowed it to slip out. Grr.

  57. John Cowan says

    SherWOOD Forest, Sheriff of Nottingham. Bloody world’s gone mad again.

    It should have been Shirebrook Forest, but you can’t blame the colonials for that. The chief family of Shirebrook, Derbyshire (adjacent to Mansfield) has spelled its name Sherbrooke time out of mind. The probable etymology of the name is ‘boundary brook’, and since Mansfield is right in the heart of the ancient royal forest, it would not be idle to suppose a connection between the two names. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a good enough map to figure out just which brook was the boundary between Derbs and Notts at the time.

    One member of the family, John Coape Sherbrooke (1764-1830) distinguished himself first in the Peninsular War, and then as the Governor of Novia Scotia (1811-16). He saw to the defenses of the colony during the American war, and encouraged it in international trade. Two towns in N.S. were named after him, of which one has fortunately been renamed since.

    Sherbrooke also became the first person to conquer, occupy, and hold part of the United States. He led an expedition to eastern Maine, then part of Massachusetts, and conquered it as far west as the Penobscot River, enforcing the river as an international boundary. Only the peace treaty of 1815 compelled Britain to give up New Ireland, as Sherbrooke had named his new colony. (Resentment over the failure of the Masshole government to defend the District of Maine was one of the major factors in Maine’s agitation for statehood, which eventually brought Maine and Missouri in as a free and a slave state respectively in 1830 (the Missouri Compromise), thus preserving the existing balance of power in the U.S. government for a generation.)

    Presumably on the strength of this conquest, Sherbrooke was appointed Governor-General of the Canadas in 1817. Though he held office for only two years before resigning due to a stroke, he held the balance between the various peoples of Canada quite well and probably postponed the rebellions of 1837 (or something very like them) for another generation as well. As a result, his name was given to the city of Sherbrooke, P. Q., and to various other towns across Canada, as well as the Rue Sherbrooke, one of the main drags of Montreal.

    Finally, Sherbrooke, Victoria was founded by an immigrant from Sherbrooke, P. Q., and the forest was named after the town. And that was the way it was in the British Empah.

  58. In North Dakota, we have sloughs. If Noah Webster had bothered to reform the spelling, we’d have slews. But no.
    We also don’t have woods, so the the American equivalent of calling someone a bush person, to say they’re from the ‘back woods,’ doesn’t work here. We have to deprecate our equals on the basis of religion and nationality. This leads to Norwegians surnamed Smedshammer making fun of their Icelandic neighbor, Hetman Guttormson, because of his silly name.

    Very quietly, we Haarsagers thought that Smedshammer was a bit comical too.

  59. David Eddyshaw says
  60. @Phil Jennings: I (and most Americans, I think) exclusively use “slew” for the senses related to rotational motion and “slough” for the homophonous* senses related to waterforms. However, either spelling can actually be found for either meaning, especially in works by non-American writers. For example, in what I would consider an editing error, the novel Dragonflight by the (then-)American author Anne McCaffrey mixes both spellings for the rotation meaning.

    * There are also the sense of “slough,” related to shedding, that are pronounced differently, but they are probably unrelated etymologically—although neither pronunciation of “slough” has a clear etymology.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    Wait, are (watery) “slough” and “slew” homophones in American? Who knew? (Well, Americans did*, presumably.)

    Is this a Shrewsbury thing?

    *But can you be truly said to know that two forms are homophones, if you did not know that they might not be homophones? These are deep waters …

  62. ktschwarz says

    “slew” for the senses related to rotational motion — aha, that’s the “slew” in slewfoot, a clumsy person or one with turned-out or twisted feet. I used to confuse it with the water sense of slew and thought a slewfoot was someone who had stepped in mud.

    The famous racehorse Seattle Slew was named after the watery sloughs of the Pacific Northwest, but the owners preferred the spelling “Slew” since it was easier to remember.

  63. Wait, are (watery) “slough” and “slew” homophones in American?

    To some people, since both pronunciations are given in US dictionaries, but I frankly doubt the word is actually an active part of the vocabulary of many Americans. I myself only ever say (or, as far as I know, think) it as part of the phrase “slough of despond,” which doesn’t come up all that often; when it does, I say (or think) /slau/, for whatever reason (a childhood English teacher?).

  64. M-W says “ˈslü, ˈslau̇; in the US (except in New England) ˈslü is usual for sense 1 with those to whom the sense is familiar; British usually ˈslau̇ for both senses”; I like “with those to whom the sense is familiar.” I frankly am never sure what exactly a slough is, except that it’s likely to be despondent.

  65. @David Eddyshaw: I knew that the relevant sense of “slough” was pronounced differently in Britain. On pronunciation, Merriam-Webster says:

    in the US (except in New England) ˈslü is usual for [the watercourse sense] with those to whom the sense is familiar; British usually ˈslau̇ for both senses;

    and the OED seems to agree, although the entry is formatted strangely and, except for the

    4. North American. /sluː/. = slew n.1 Also, a side channel of a river, or a natural channel that is only sporadically filled with water

    does not appear to have been touched since 1912.

    The Merriam-Webster note about “those to whom the sense is familiar” is probably significant. I learned the word in a special Talented and Gifted educational enrichment unit on estuaries when I was in fourth grade. None of the other fifth or sixth graders had seen that sense of the word previously either, although the (differently pronounced) meaning related to shedding was known to most or all of us. This led to some joking about how Mrs. Lomax wanted us to pronounce the word, since that didn’t match what we knew from the other meaning. The word did feature in a short video we watched as part of the lesson, and the man who said, “I’ve been fishing this slough all my life,” pronounced it exactly like “slew” would be.

  66. I’m surprised to find that ‘slough’ is alive and well in some parts of the US as a name for a watery place. I knew of the place of despond, like our host, but I was never clear about what it was, except presumably somewhere dank and dismal.

    I use slough, pronounced sluff, in playing bridge, where it means to dispose of a useless card. It’s often spelled sluff, too, in line with ‘ruff,’ which means to take a trick with a trump. Oddly, I have found that a significant number of bridge players spell ruff ‘rough,’ although the words are unrelated. M-W says that ruff in the card-playing sense derives from Middle French ‘roffler,’ I suppose because when an opponent used a trump to take a trick you thought you were going to win, he would fall about the floor in derisive laughter.

  67. I’m surprised to find that ‘slough’ is alive and well in some parts of the US as a name for a watery place.

    Me too.

  68. David Eddyshaw says

    “Slough” (sluff) is a term of art in surgery. It’s also useful for telling people to slough off.

  69. Elkhorn Slough, at the midpoint of Monterey Bay in central California, is quite a popular spot for easy kayaking and birdwatching.

  70. I know a few American proper place names with “Slough,” but it’s not common. Actually however, the “Slough” name that springs to my mind most easily is fictional, from an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure written by an Englishman.

  71. ‘The Slough (slew) of Despond’ is from “Pilgrim’s Progress” in a section I read in a survey of English
    ‘Sluff off’ originally meant ‘shed skin’, which we do every day, in the sense of ‘do nothing but’.

  72. Lars Mathiesen says

    roffler — so now we know that Middle Frenchmen were conversant in txtmode. I blame Emmett Brown.

  73. AJP Crown says

    ‘The Slough (slew) of Despond’ is from “Pilgrim’s Progress”
    It’s slough, rhymes-with-cow, but maybe not to Americans. Actually, anyone who’s been to the place in Ricky Gervais’ ‘The Office’ would know dis dreary pond, but the slough in question according to its wiki article: may have been inspired by Squitch Fen, a wet and marshy area near his cottage in Harrowden, Bedfordshire, which Bunyan had to cross on his way to church in Elstow, or “The Souls’ Slough” on the Great North Road between Tempsford and Biggleswade.

    Now I saw in my Dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew near to a very Miry Slow that was in the midst of the Plain, and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bogg. The name of the Slow was Dispond. Here therefore they wallowed for a time, being grieviously bedaubed with the dirt; And Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the Mire.

    The Pilgrim’s Progress: from this World to That which is to Come (Second Ed.) Wharey & Sharrock, editors.

  74. David Eddyshaw says
  75. AJP Crown says

    Yes, I think he regretted writing that. Although his motive was fine, attacking Sloughlike places pre-Ricky Gervais also makes him look like a bit of a home-counties snob (which he was).

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    I was citing the poem for the rhymes rather than the content, really.

    I’m no Betjeman fan, myself. Mind you, if you’re going to have Poets Laureate at all, he was pretty much ideal for it. And he’s a much better and more serious poet than his deliberately rather campy style suggests. I recall someone (I think it was Stephen Spender) saying that under all that you can discern the Waste Land.

  77. AJP Crown says

    It’s a good poem, the rhymes are unusual, and it’s worth noting his almost prescient scorn for, among other things, air-conditioned spaces (it was written prewar, in 1937 when the dreariest aspects of England’s suburban town centres hadn’t even appeared).

    I don’t enjoy Spender’s own work as much as I do Betjeman’s, but invoking The Waste Land makes for a fine contrast. In my yoof I sort of vaguely knew of (friend of a friend) his daughter Lizzie, whom I found for some reason I always called Penny (I couldn’t figure it out until I realised that Penny Spender was a pun).

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    “Slough” in its hydronym usage is very rare in most of the U.S. but common in a few regions. The U.S. is a big country with lots of geographical variation and lots of lexical variation. I wouldn’t be surprised for someone who had never lived in one of the parts of the country where the hydronym usage is extant to be unfamiliar with it, unless of course that someone was the sort of person who seemed likely to have a greater-than-average interest in regional variation in American English.

    I have never lived in a slough-inclusive part of the U.S. but my first experience (that I can recall) with the slough phenomenon as a tourist was an unhappy one. I was perhaps 9 or 10 years old, and my family was visiting old friends of my parents in the San Francisco Bay area. We went out for a stroll that including traversing a wooden walkway crossing part of a slough and I leaned over too far and fell in.

  79. It’s slough, rhymes-with-cow, but maybe not to Americans.

    It does to this one, but I probably looked it up in a dictionary when I first encountered it (I was that kind of kid).

  80. ə de vivre says

    It’s slough, rhymes-with-cow, but maybe not to Americans.

    I grew up not far from the Mercer Slough, which rhymed with “through” or “few.” It’s the only slough I’ve ever encountered IRL, though, and thinking about it now, I wonder if the name was invented by some real-estate developer trying to twee up the swamp he was building next to (I do remember an office park that was slowly sinking into the wetlands it had been built on. Quality wasn’t exactly a priority during the construction boom in the 80s in the North West).

  81. How very ironic if slough was used to upmarket something.

    I’m assuming that John Bunyan’s spelling slough as ‘slow’ has something to do with the great vowel shift and that he also pronounced slow to rhyme with cow & allow. I can’t think of an unambiguous spelling for /slaʊ/.

  82. @ə de vivre: Mercer Slough is one of the handful of so-named American sloughs I can think of. I have no idea where the name came from, but it was a pretty marsh the last time I was there. Not having actually lived around there, I have to wonder how the pronunciation of the name was conveyed to people who saw the name in writing. As my anecdote about how I learned the word indicates, the hydronymic sense of slough was not commonly used in nearby Oregon. The Merriam-Webster note about the “slew” pronunciation being used by “those to whom the sense is familiar” rings true, and I would not expect people who did not come from a part of America where the word is more common to pronounce it “slew.”

    I doubt the use of the “slew” pronunciation is an Oregon-Washington difference. However, I do want to point out one difference between the Pacific Northwest states. There might have been a building boom in Washington in the 1980s, but it did not extend to the whole Northwest. The economy of Oregon did not really recover from the contraction that started in 1981 until around 1987 or 1988. There was a long period of stagnation in the state throughout most of the decade. However, this eventually had an upside as well. The business cycle in Oregon was so out of synch with the rest of the country that the state was effectively immunized from the 1991 recession. The Oregon building boom that finally started up around 1989 or 1990 continued essentially unimpeded through at least the mid-1990s.

    @AJP Crown: I think the spelling “slau” would be unambiguous with respect to pronunciation, but it seems not to be allowed by the normal conventions of English spelling; native words do not typically end in “-au.”

  83. If I saw “slau” in English, I’d assume it was pronounced like “slaw.”

  84. ə de vivre says


    Anecdotally, I don’t have any distinct memories of learning how to pronounce “slough,” and may have heard the word before I knew how to read—it was (and probably still is) a popular place to take walks and rent kayaks. But I can’t think of any other sloughs in the area, so it may be that one person’s idiosyncratic toponymic predilections resulted in a small pocket of native slough-pronouncers in the suburbs of Seattle. I wonder if people form suburbs to the north or south (as opposed to east) of the city would share my pronunciation (or even have a pronunciation).

  85. My mom, originally from rural central Michigan, used slough (“slew”) as a hydronym, and also in “(whole) slough of trouble.” Generally, “slough of” was a way of describing large amounts.

    It’s definitely a living word in midwestern DNR/outdoors circles. I’ve been to Willow Slough in IN, Saganashkee Slough in IL; and I quickly find Muskrat Slough in IA, Neenah Slough and Wisconsin Slough in WI,.

    Minnesota might as well be called the State of 10,000 Sloughs.

    I’d guess it was universally used in rural places in the US back before farmers could use backhoes to fill in entire large shallow/seasonal wetlands and create marginal, infertile farmland. Most townships in Michigan would have been dotted with sloughs when my grandmother was born.

  86. also in “(whole) slough of trouble.”

    Huh. I grew up hearing “slew of” (as I mentally spelled it), and it never would have occurred to me it had anything to do with slough.

  87. ktschwarz says

    It doesn’t. “a slew of” is the dictionary spelling, and it’s unrelated to all the other slew/slough/slue words. Most dictionaries derive it from Irish sluagh or slua, ‘a crowd’ or ‘a host’.

  88. AJP Crown says

    I grew up hearing “slew of” (as I mentally spelled it), and it never would have occurred to me it had anything to do with slough.

    Same here.

    The OED has for slew

    A very large number of,
    Etymology: < Irish slua(gh), crowd, multitude.
    colloquial (originally U.S.)

    (but with a citation from The Listener from 1958, so it was in England too by that time).

    A ‘slough’ spelling means someone (Ryan’s mom?) unnecessarily corrected ‘slew’ for sluagh, which she didn’t accept. But I’m not sure what her pronunciation was.

  89. Minnesota: A Slew of Sloughs

  90. It doesn’t. “a slew of” is the dictionary spelling, and it’s unrelated to all the other slew/slough/slue words. Most dictionaries derive it from Irish sluagh or slua, ‘a crowd’ or ‘a host’.

    Whew! I think I actually knew that at one point.

  91. It was hardly my mother, since there are 19th C. citations which relate “slough of trouble” to watery settings, give it a dimension crowds don’t have (“deepest slough of trouble”) and the phrase as often deployed – “whole slough of trouble” – implies something more bounded than a crowd. I’d guess in English usage it was related to slough in most people’s minds for a long time, maybe from the start, regardless of derivation. It would be a pretty odd derivation that throws in an Irish word otherwise used nowhere in English.

    It’s interesting that google gives no 19th century books with “slew of trouble” though a slough of them for “slough of trouble.” It’s tough to search for “slew of” more generally because there are too many Biblical uses involving slaughtering armies.

    I don’t have an OED. How much evidence do they give. Online references I found to the OED etymology merely assert slew is from sluagh, and give a first citation of Daniel Thompson’s Green Mountain Boys in 1839 — a Vermonter writing about a quintessentially Vermont subject at a time when there were few Irish in the US, fewer still in Vermont. He had a sojourn in Virginia, also not a hotbed of Irish immigration.

    My references to the OED don’t mention it, but a mere year later, in 1840, Thomas Chandler Haliburton uses “slough” metaphorically to encompass a teeming, slimy group — “slough of Loco-Focoism” that one would have to wade through (Loco-Focoism meaning hordes of nativist partisans that he finds distasteful). He’s a Canadian writer trying to channel New England dialect (in a letter from Elnathan Carr to his friend Ichabod — yes, he caricatures old Yankee dissenter names nicely.) It would be strange to pull in a recent Irish borrowing in that context.

    I’m not really sure why the 1799 usage in the translation of Historical and Political Survey of the Losses Sustained by the French Nation by Francois d’Ivernois wouldn’t count – up to his chin in “a slough of doubts.”

    The jump from any of these — from slough as simultaneously a teeming, slimy place, and also a teeming slimy group overwhelming in its negative impact to slough as simply meaning a startlingly large amount — seems small; I find it far easier to accept than the idea of an otherwise unused Irish word becoming current in a particular way in an American dialect largely untouched by Irish.

    So I don’t buy it.

    I also note that there are usages that tie slough and “slough off.” The slough of a wound is the slimy exuvia – a slew, but it’s also the stuff that is sluffed off. The slough of a mine is a mud-pit of refuse washed out of the mine. A slough in the Midwest is a broad, shallow body of water where wet detritus may blow, and then lie on the ground as it dries out – the slough left where the slough was. These all tie together very easily. Another sign that slough was broadly known and even productive a couple centuries ago.

    I wonder what the accepted etymology of “lot of” is. In my mind, it’s parallel – a parcel of land rather than a broad stretch of water, but in either case a reasonable metaphor for having a great deal of something.

    We lived across the street from our US Senator when I was young, and his wife was always amused by “lot of,” since she seemed to believe it implied animals – as a feedlot. She is from a relatively small-town Midwestern background It seemed strange to me, but she made the comment more than once.

  92. ktschwarz says

    marie-lucie agreed with iakon (a Canadian) that the watery slough was pronounced “slew”. Another Canadian example: Finn Slough (“slew”), a historic fishing village in British Columbia.

    The web tells me there are hundreds of water features named X Slough around the US, except in the Northeast. (Of course, that’s still a small fraction of all water names.) I wouldn’t have guessed that many either!

  93. Big Marsh Slough in none other than Vermont. Eastman Slough in New Hampshire. And the Met holds a work “Willows in Slough, near Hillsborough, New Hampshire” from 1957.

    The Big Slough in Little House on the Prairie is a real place, but one that Wilder could have rechristened if she had any concern her readers wouldn’t recognize the word. I believe the word was universal a generation ago, or universal on one side of the urban exodus. The trick is that sloughs were undesirable, of hyper-local interest, and easily filled, so most no longer exist, and those that do often have no public presence.

    I wonder if Bunyan saw a joke in Slough of Despond, with a pretend etymology for despond as the stuff that des-ponded, or blew off the pond and into the mudflats when the wind pushed water that way.

  94. It occurs to me that the semantics of the American watercourse sense of slough are quite similar to those of the Australian billabong.

  95. I think I was a bit too hasty in consigning ‘forest’ to the dustbin in Australia. No, it is not dead at all. It’s used in expressions like ‘State forest’ and ‘forestry’, and of course in referring to specific or discrete forests. You couldn’t talk about Sherbrooke Bush, or x number of bushes — unless you were referring to shrubs — since ‘bush’ is uncountable. There is, however, such a thing as a ‘bush reserve’ or ‘bush preserve’.

    Old expressions are still found in place names, however. There is a Forest Glen near where I come from, but no one would ever talk of going to the glen. There is a Kedron Brook in the suburbs of Brisbane and maybe people talk of going down to the brook, I don’t know. There is also a St Johns Wood (although I’m not sure there are actually woods there), but that doesn’t mean that people normally talk of going into the woods in Australia.

  96. there were few Irish in the US, fewer still in Vermont

    Few Irish Catholics, but many Irish Protestants. North of Pennsylvania, the greatest concentration was in Vermont.

  97. Crawdad Tom says

    In addition to the already mentioned Elkhorn Slough, there are a slew of sloughs in California, for example, Lost, Steamboat, Sutter, Miner, and Cache Sloughs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; Oregon Slough off the Shasta River; and Eureka, Mad River, Butcher, and Ryan Sloughs in the Humboldt Bay area, to name but a few. I learned to pronounce it some time in childhood (slew) by asking my mother (from New Jersey) after reading the name of a slough on a highway bridge sign as our car went by.

  98. AJP Crown says

    Marquess of Bath: There is also a St Johns Wood (although I’m not sure there are actually woods there)

    Named according to Wiki after the not unattractive, if you like that sort of thing, St John’s Wood House built by a local barrister, later a judge, it says. That in turn was named after St John’s Wood, near Regent’s Park in north London which was part of the royal Forest of Middlesex described by the monk William Fitzstephen in the late 12C as a “vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals – stags, does, boars, and wild bulls.” Today it’s home to Paul McCartney and Lord’s cricket ground which also has its share of bores and wild bulls.

    St Johns Wood near Brisbane has wisely omitted the apostrophe that is the curse of London names – you never know: it’s Earl’s Court and then one stop later Barons Court – wtf. I’ve mentioned this before because it drives me round the bend.

  99. J.W. Brewer says

    “Your mother, she’s an heiress / Owns a block in St. John’s Wood,” sneered the young Mick Jagger while putting down some generic rich chick at risk of getting herself burned. From which I take it that by 1965 it had been considerably gentrified from the days of Wm. Fitzstephen.

    But what’s the deal with singular “wood”? Is that a usual British thing? I guess Pooh lived in the Hundred Acre Wood, not the Hundred Acre Woods? American real estate promoters and other toponym creators tend strongly (I think uniformly but I don’t have time to try to rule out a counterexample or two) to the plural, such as the subdivision in which I lived as a teenager: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Woods,_Delaware Or Willson’s Woods Park, in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. and close to where I live now.

  100. John Cowan says

    Hundred Acre Wood

    The name of the corresponding actual place is Five Hundred Acre Wood, originally a part of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Almost all the Pooh locations are real places, and both the Shepherd illustrations and the maps are drawn mostly from life. The 500AW was privatized in the 17C, but there are two public rights of way crossing it.

    The OED’s first citation for wood in this sense is a gloss of Omnes bestiae silvarum as ‘alle wilddeor wuda’ (all wild animals of the woods). The OED further contrasts wood with forest, which is larger (and historically not even necessarily wooded), with plantation, which implies trees grown on purpose, and with copse and grove, which are smaller.

    Several dictionaries agree that out of the woods ‘out of peril’ is AmE, with out of the wood used elsewhere.

  101. David Eddyshaw says

    I say “out of the woods” (or at least I think I do; introspection is an unsafe guide.)
    I must have been Americanized without knowing it. One can never be too vigilant in these matters. I’ll be spelling verbs with -ize next, if I don’t watch out.

  102. Stu Clayton says

    I wouldn’t get unduly exercized over that.

  103. San Francisco’s ritzy neighborhood of St. Francis Wood was built in the 1910s. You had to be rich and White to build a house in it. The area had had some trees planted there, but previously was probably scrub. So much for St. Francis, so much for the Wood.

  104. David Marjanović says

    which also has its share of bores

    Day saved.

    I’ll be spelling verbs with -ize next, if I don’t watch out.

    For my only paper that’s out yet this year, I had to format the multiauthored manuscript – sorry, typescript – in OED style, meaning British with -ize, but only where etymologically justified; the very long style guide explicitly warned against analyze.

  105. in OED style, meaning British with -ize, but only where etymologically justified

    This is very familiar to me. As with many things, if you’re brought up in that spelling system it’s not hard to remember. Much harder if you’re coming from the outside, as it were. Advertise is another. Definitely not advertize. Exorcise (unless you’re American and exorcize is an acceptable alternative).

    Maybe it’s that kind of issue, rather than any determination to be staunchly British, that prompted the shift to -ise. It simplifies things a lot.

  106. I have a recollection that the spellings mediaeval and archaeology are acceptable to US practitioners of these fields. I haven’t checked though.

  107. AJP Crown says

    I’m a bad speller anyway, but my trouble was living so long in America that I forgot the more meandering Greek-based English spellings, so now when I write to people in England I get judged.

  108. AJP Crown says

    As well as the boars of St John’s Wood and still within 12 miles’ reach (it says in Wiki) of Charing Cross is the suburb of Borehamwood.

    One of the earliest mentions of Bosci de Boreham (Wood of Boreham), is in 1188:

    “In 1188 Pope Clement granted to the kitchen of the monastery the whole land of Elstree. He also gave to the Abbey the wood of Boreham for the feeding of the swine.”

    So it was pigs all over north London, basically. “Bosci de Boreham” is so much classier than Bore ’em to Death that you’d think the locals would change the name back.

  109. People inside the orthopedic profession, even in America, apparently insist on orthopaedics, perhaps to dispel the impression that they specialize in feet.

  110. J.W. Brewer says

    @Rodger: Could be, although those Americans who read Britishly-spelled texts may be more familiar with the ped/paed alternation in pairs like pedagogy/paedogogy or pedophile/paedophile, neither of which evokes feet.

  111. Trond Engen says

    So it was pigs all over north London, basically.

    Grisgrendte strøk.

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    to dispel the impression that they specialize in feet

    Fellow-professionals in the UK (and indeed orthopaedic surgeons themselves) refer to them informally as “orthopods” (or, indeed, “pods.”)

    I was myself a teenage orthopaedic surgeon. (Well, maybe not teenage. As such.)

    [At the time, I attributed a colleague’s usual cheerful greeting “Look out, here come the pods!” to this custom, rather than supposing that she had found out that I was in fact a soulless alien simulacrum of a human being. It was doubtless for the best.]

  113. We (well, my wife and I) talk about “orthopods” (and hence “dermapods”) here in Massachusetts.

  114. AJP Crown says

    A British architect can’t talk for more than 5 mins without describing something as a pod. Often it’s for housing, families in “a series of pods” along a circulation spine, say – I get an image of mice nibbling the peas in a barn of vegetables. I think the word may have first been used by the Archigram group in the early 1960s. Whatever; it never caught on elsewhere thank God, but they blythely continue with their vague metaphor.

  115. John Cowan says

    “Look out, here come the pods!”

    When I was in the hospital some years back for a foot infection and two broken toes, I had three sets of doctors: internal medicine, orthopedics, and infectious diseases. I was complaining to one of my non-pod doctors about the behavior of the pods, who not only arrived at 4 AM for rounds, but sent someone in advance to wake me up at 3 AM so that I would be compos mentis an hour later (not that I would be). Her response was “Yes, they do tend to travel in packs.”

  116. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I once learnt (from a book about supplying the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars) that pigs can’t be droved from a distance the way cows can – they get thin on the journey, so have to be brought up near to where they will be used; hence all the edges of London.

    I think they were also good for eating up the waste products of breweries, so tended to be kept nearby…

  117. David Eddyshaw says

    behavior of the pods, who [not only] arrived at 4 AM for rounds

    This reflects the profound cultural gulf between Physicians and Surgeons.

    For a Physician, ward rounds are what it’s all about. They are to be savoured, like fine wines. There will be learned discussion about each case. Discussion will be leisurely and comprehensive, as befits conversation among Scholars and Gentlemen. It will take all day. Tea and cakes will be involved, probably more than once.

    For a Surgeon, a ward round is something you do in the half-hour before you go to the operating theatre to do Real Work.

  118. Ben Tolley says

    @J.W. Brewer
    In British English (or in mine, at any rate) woods is a type of landscape; a wood is a place: a wood contains woods (that does sound silly, but is hard to argue with). I think woods may occur in placenames, though I can’t think of any examples, but wood is usual.

  119. John Cowan says

    DE: That would be fine if they didn’t want to ask me questions. But I was an Unusual Case that they wanted students to learn from, so I had to prop my eyelids up with toothpicks and try to get my brain to work at an altogether abominable hour. The other teams’ rounds were also very quick (very little learned discussion), but at least they came to see me in the morning or afternoon.

    I say “the hospital” but in fact there were two, and this business happened at the first one. My insurance told me that they would no longer pay for my stay in that hospital due to some chronic disputes between them and the hospital, so I checked myself out AMA and taped my records to my chest, took a taxi to the hospital the insurance would pay for, and went directly to the ER, saying “Here’s the story”. I then spent the next 14 hours on a gurney until a bed was found for me. Fortunately I was neither feeling sick nor in pain (thanks to diabetic neuropathy), so I could work throughout all this, except while on the gurney.

    The other thing was that the three teams at two hospitals, or six altogether, never managed to notice the nasty plantar diabetic ulcer on the affected foot. Indeed, no one saw it until I was finally discharged from the hospital and went to my podiatrist, who said “What do they know about feet?” After that I was on vancomycin for six months, with a PICC line and all, but at least I was home.

  120. David Eddyshaw says

    A close relative of mine who had the misfortune to be in hospital for almost a year (some decades ago) used to break the tedium by making up totally fictitious accounts of his symptoms and medical history for medical students who came to see him and then denying them completely on the subsequent ward round with the consultant. I think this was before compulsory daytime television for hospital inpatients.

  121. I think this was before compulsory daytime television for hospital inpatients.

    Now here’s an advantage of the US health care system. The last time I was in the hospital (hip replacement, 2 nights only) I had a TV with a remote that put it entirely under my control. Except it didn’t work. Probably because the hospital, in its eagerness to send out implausibly large bills to patients, had omitted to pay the cable company.

  122. When I was in the hospital for about a week, at age fifteen, we had to pay three dollars a day to use the television. For the first couple of days, I was in no shape to watch anything, but after that, as my condition improved somewhat, the boredom got to me.* So I asked for the television to be available. There was broadcast and the most badic of basic cable; however, there was one channel that was something incredibly tedious during the day but was hilariously scrambled Playboy late at night.

    * On my second night there, I had to call a nurse for something in the middle of the night. I got no response until the third time I buzzed, which was after waiting nearly half an hour. The nurse seemed to think I was unreasonable to expect a response at all, much less a prompt one. Now, I was having an actual, albeit minor, problem (with my IV, I think), but she had no way to know it was not more serious. I had been admitted less than thirty-six hours before with a 105 fever of completely unknown etiology; thus I was in a situation where death was a real risk (albeit not a really large risk; my father told me that while, in theory, a fever that high was always a serious concern, he had never actually had a generally healthy teenaged patient die of a sudden unexplained infection). I wanted to remonstrate, but I simply lacked the energy.

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