I apologize for leaving you postless as I was off escorting a group on a very enjoyable ballet trip to Hamburg and Copenhagen, and incidentally contemplating the fact that the Danish will never ask for a Danish, since they call those pastries... Vienna breads! (By the way, once you've had Danish pastries in Denmark, there's no going back.)
(I didn't try to order a hamburger in Hamburg either).
But lo! I am back. And singing again, which gave me the subject for this post: archaic interjections. This week the Evensong psalm was Number 73 (Quam bonus Israel! Truly God is loving unto Israel), which, in the King James Version, has some pretty smirk-inducing lines:
9 For they stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven : and their tongue goeth through the world.
10 Therefore fall the people unto them : and thereout suck they no small advantage.
(good heavens, now that I think of it, this could be a description of Twitter)
11 Tush, say they, how should God perceive it : is there knowledge in the most High?12 Lo, these are the ungodly, these prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession.
It's almost impossible to sing, "Tush, say they," with a straight face.
I find interjections fascinating. It is so hard to say where they come from. The OED famously attributes the origin of most of them to "A natural utterance" although what's "natural" about "tush", I do not know, since no one apparently felt moved to naturally utter it before the 1400s. (Apparently it had some competition from another "natural utterance" in the 1500s: "twish!")
And, once we have been moved to naturally utter them, why do they then disappear from the language? "Tush" (rhymes with hush) is great as "An exclamation of impatient contempt or disparagement", as the OED puts it. But already by the 19th century it had become archaic, to the point that the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson invented the word "tushery" to deride a "conventional style of romance characterized by excessive use of affected archaisms such as ‘tush!’"
It's not as if we are lacking in impatient contempt or disparagement, so do we have something to replace "tush" among our modern interjections? Pish and pshaw have also died. I guess "bah" and "fooey" fit the bill (if you can think of any others, please share in the comments).
Most modern translations have no interjection in this line of the psalm at all.
Just as well, because, although "tush" is bad enough, I seriously cannot imagine singing, with due Anglican solemnity, a psalm that included the line "Fooey, say they"
You will of course, be wondering about the other "tush" (rhyming with "push"), meaning the buttocks. This comes from Yiddish tokhes from Hebrew taḥaṯ ‘beneath’. Speaking of which, I will be giving a talk about Hebrew and Yiddish words in English at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Bloor and Spadina, Tuesday May 27 at 1 pm.
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