Doughty’s Words

Charles M. Doughty (Wikipedia)

Charles M. Doughty (Wikipedia)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have just finished the Life of Charles M. Doughty by David Hogarth.

Doughty was born in 1843. In the 1870s he spent several years travelling in the Middle-East, learning about its geology and the peoples who lived there – some who were friendly, others rather less so.

In 1888 he published an account of his travels, Travels in Arabia Deserta. It made little impression at the time but was highly regarded by T E Lawrence and was sought after by the biography’s author, David Hogarth, when he was serving with the Arab Bureau in Cairo during World War One.

I haven’t yet seen, let alone read, the Arabia Deserta but if I understand Hogarth aright, Doughty uses a very old fashioned form of English in it. Doughty idolised Chaucer and Edmund Spenser and I think wrote in imitation (or as he believed they would have written were they still alive?) of them. As and when I am able to look at the book I’ll let you know what I find.

In this post, however, and in celebration of old fashioned words, I just wanted to share a few that Doughty mentions in a letter that he wrote to his daughter in 1923/4.

Actually, I’ll not just mention the words but quote the whole paragraph as Doughty tells a really lovely anecdote. Here it is,

[In Sissinghurst, Doughty] could indulge his love of birds and flowers. ‘A trush’, he wrote to his daughter Freda, ‘has just hopped in at my window, looked at me for some time, and twinkled his eye when I chirped to him, no doubt expecting, as he was a young frown one, to be fed’; and, ‘Here is my little Throstles Wooing which mummy brings you this morning. A few words you may find unusual, as not often seen in prose; but they are classical English in the higher poetry; as hungerneed (one word), Shaws, Woods, Lief bird, loved bird, eme is uncle, fere, companion, mavis is thrush, his shrew, shrew is for wife, hurst is wood, gawk is cuckoo, gleda is buzzard, make is mate.’

Of the words mentioned, I only knew shrew – thanks to Shakespeare. ‘gawk‘ reminded me of the popular website, Gawker, but as I don’t read it I can’t say if its title is an allusion to the cuckoo.

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