Saturday, January 27, 2007

Deogolwulf's "Fewtrils"

Deogolwulf at Work on a Fewtril
(Undated image from Wikipedia)

I've recently 'discovered' the intellectually thrilling "fewtrils" of Deogolwulf, who blogs in his secretively wolflike manner at The Joy of Curmudgeonry. How I missed their appearance lies beyond my ken; within my ken lies how much I'd miss by their disappearance. Take, for instance, the recent Fewtril #156:

"That charity must be made into entertainment, demonstrates just how deeply people care for entertainment."
I think that this is the first one that I read. The close and knowing reader will instantly see that this is British English. But let that comma be. It offers an idiosyncratic British division between subject and predicate that makes the aphorism yet more memorable. Let me try a spinoff, a Fewtril #156*:
"That truth must be put into aphorism, demonstrates just how greatly intellectuals prefer the aphoristic."
So much for my attempt. But what is a "fewtril"? Deogolwulf tells us:
"Fewtrils" is a word from Lancashire meaning trifles or things of little value. In the dictionaries, it always appears as a plural noun, but I have taken the liberty of using it in the singular.

Michael Gilleland, of Laudator Temporis Acti (borrowing from a certain "Steve" at Languagehat, who cites the Oxford English Dictionary [OED]), quotes this:

fewtrils, n. pl. dial. Little things, trifles. Cf. FATTRELS. c1750 J. COLLIER (Tim Bobbin) Lanc. Dial. Gloss., Fewtrils, little things. 1854 DICKENS Hard T. I. xi, 'I ha' gotten decent fewtrils about me agen.' 1857 J. SCHOLES Jaunt to see Queen 28 (Lanc. Gloss.) Peg had hur hoppet ov hur arm wi her odd fewtrils.

fattrels, n. pl. Sc. [ad. F. fatraille 'trash, trumpery, things of no value' (Cotgr.).] Ribbon-ends. 1786 BURNS To a Louse 20 Now haud you there, ye're out o' sight, Below the fatt'rils, snug and tight. 1788 E. PICKEN Poems Gloss. 231 Fattrels, ribbon-ends, &c.

So ... the word "fewtrils" appears in Dickens Hard Times? Perhaps that explains why it didn't seem entirely unfamiliar. The citation in the OED comes from a conversation between Josiah Bounderby and Stephen Blackpool in which Blackpool describes his unhappy marriage, one so unhappy that he pays his wife to stay away:

'I ha' paid her to keep awa' fra' me. These five year I ha' paid her. I ha' gotten decent fewtrils about me agen. I ha' lived hard and sad, but not ashamed and fearfo' a' the minnits o' my life. Last night, I went home. There she lay upon my har-stone! There she is!'
Blackpool seems to be using the word "fewtrils" in an understated way of saying that he had managed to make his life better, if perhaps only marginally so. Deogolwolf uses the word in a similarly understated manner, for his fewtrils are of decidedly more than "little value" -- certainly more than few, or even a few, intellectual thrills.

Though they are that, as well.


At 5:29 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I'm a member of the Deogulwulf Fan Club, too. I love the fewtrils.

I think he should collect them in a pamphlet and publish them. [I heard in a recent radio interview that Adam Bellow is publishing pamphlets now].

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Adam Bellow? Any relation to Saul Bellow?

Yes, Deogolwulf should publish. His fewtrils add needed footnotes to our Western intellectual tradition.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:03 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Yes, I think Adam Bellow is Saul Bellow's son.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I thought that I heard somebody -- maybe Dennis Mangan -- mention that once.

* * *

Jeffery Hodges

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Deogolwulf said...

Kate Marie and Professor Hodges,

You are both much too kind. The fewtrils fritter away a few moments, that is all. As for that damned comma . . .

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the visit, Deogolwulf, and neither KM nor I are "too kind" -- the fewtrils are excellent and deserve publication.

By the way, I'm "Jeffery" here online -- though "Professor" sounds nice, too...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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