I should really read more August Kleinzahler; I’ve enjoyed his poems whenever I’ve run across them, and any poet who gets compared to Bunting and Pound is right up my alley. Anyway, a recent LRB has his poem “A Baroque Scot’s Excess,” which takes unholy joy in the magnificently motley vocabulary of the copious Urquhart (regarding whom see this 2008 post); I’ll quote a few stanzas, and you can read the whole thing here if the LRB link doesn’t work for non-subscribers:

Chivvied by creditors, pilloried by malison of every kind,
his noddle much modified by the liquor of grape,
he gan to unleash his word-hoard
and visit upon the worst his fullest measure of clapperclaw;

then, drawing both his oak-handled dirk and sgian dubh
from his gargantuan purse of Rhetorick,
fell about them with trope and paramologetick,
diminishing them tapinotically and by paraphrasis,
next by means of simile and cromatick,

followed hard by a sulfurous hail of scorn:
slabberdegullion druggels, freckled bittors, drawlatch hoydons,
ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, blockish grutnols, doddipol
joltheads, slutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, noddie-
peak simpletons, turdy-gut shitten shepherds

and still worse, threatening
to plunge his Roger into their packet-rackets one by one
until they set off a great pioling in the manner of pelicans.

The first obscure word in that section, malison, is a Frenchified equivalent of malediction (it’s from Old French maleiçon, from classical Latin maledictiō ‘curse’); to clapperclaw is “to claw or scratch with the open hand and nails; to beat, thrash, drub” (Shakespeare in Merry Wives of Windsor has “He will clapperclaw thee titely bully”); and tapinotically is a nonce adverb derived from Greek ταπείνωσις ‘lowness (of style).’


  1. I feel like I’ve seen clapperclaw mean “applause” – no time to research it right now… Maybe I’m thinking of something else?

  2. AhI I remembered on my way to work. I’d be embarrassed if I hadn’t – it’s practically the first sentence of my collected Shakespeare:
    VOL. IX. B fie*
    Preface to the quarto edition of this play, 1609.
    A never writer, to an ever reader. Newes.
    Eternall reader, you have heere a new play, never fhl’d with
    the ftage, never clapper-claw’d with the palmes of the vulger,

  3. Well, to beat with the palms is to applaud.

  4. marie-lucie says

    An older French phrase for “applaud” (at least for the concrete gesture, not the reason for it) is battre des mains, lit. ‘to beat with the hands’, where battre and ‘to beat’ are intransitive verbs. “To beat with the palms” looks like an almost literal translation of the French phrase, which would not be surprising for the period.

  5. marie-lucie says

    Actually, battre des mains rather means ‘to clap’, whatever the reason. Applaudir is not just ‘to clap’ but ‘to clap as a sign of appreciation’.

  6. “quodomodocunquizing cluster fists ”

  7. Get yer own words, A.K.!

  8. I don’t think of malison as obscure, though objectively I suppose it is. I forget where I first met it — C.S. Lewis? — but the comparison with benison was too obvious to overlook.

  9. marie-lucie says

    I have occasionally run into benison, which I was able to understand from the context, but I don’t think I have ever seen malison.

  10. m-l: So benison/malison are no longer used in Modern French?

  11. marie-lucie says

    JC: benison/malison
    If you try “TLFI” with one of those words, it redirects to another site which says: “Erreur” and “Cette forme est introuvable”. If you just try “TLFI”, then enter the word from their site, benison redirects to bénédiction, while malison is unknown. Under bénédiction the historical part mentions the older form beneïçon.
    I tried the words on Google, where the only French benison is in a quote by Paul Claudel, who was very fond of archaisms in terms of topics as well as vocabulary. Malison only occurs as a mistake for maison, or for Madison.
    I then tried “dictionnaire ancien français” and found about half a dozen older ones, at least 100 years old, and just one more recent one. Godefroy’s dictionary, quoted by others, mentioned a large variety of apparently Middle French forms for each of the words, but the English borrowings were not the most common even if they were mentioned at all. Same with the recent dictionary (1992) which had fewer forms.
    So it is not just my impression that these forms are pretty much unknown in present-day French.

  12. marie-lucie says

    p.s. My earlier comment referred to the English words.

  13. marie-lucie says

    LH: The first obscure word in that section, malison, is a Frenchified equivalent of malediction (it’s from Old French maleiçon, from classical Latin maledictiō ‘curse’)
    I would not say that malison is a Frenchified equivalent of malediction. It is rather one of the forms (along with maleïçon and others) taken by Latin maledictiō as Latin gradually transformed itself into French. This form was then borrowed into English. The same thing happened to benison, one of the Old French forms (along with beneïçon) resulting from the natural evolution of Latin benedictiō. The Latin words were later reborrowed into both French and English as malédiction/bénédiction, malediction/benediction which replaced the Old French terms (which had many forms, as I found out from the dictionaries quoted in my earlier post).

  14. It’s enormous that you are getting ideas from this paragraph as well as from our dialogue made at this time.
    [Can’t bring myself to delete this gem. -LH]

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