Herman Newt: a formal intro

Hallo. Herman Newt is my name. I hermaneut.

Today I would like to hermaneut ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’, which has come down to us as a nursery rhyme from we know not where or when but might be able to educate our guesses re which, if we stay true to the rules of sound hermeneutics as we discover (as distinct from invent) them.

Hmmm, hmmmm! Allow me to clear my throat before I go on. Hermeneutical tasks tend to be daunting and I’m a fairly dauntable beast. The undauntable ones are the ones fahking it up. I spell fahking like that to distinguish it distinctly and absolutely from the word that rhymes with ducking and is too rude to say. Fahking is the same word as faking, but both words have undergone a semantic shift over the years. Both relate to making. That’s what it means when I say it and, I venture to opine, when most people say it, allowing for it’s having come adrift of its semantical moorings here and there and almost completely in some places (St Skeat and all that’s holy keep it from clagging up to the too-rude sense!) and sometimes it carries a moral judgement to the effect that one should not. And probably one should not fahk up the hermeneutic as it is being properly done , and should endeavour to point out any flaws we see in it – not opinions we disagree with, but actual errors. Most arise from mistaking the hypotheses of someone hugely ‘up there’ (oh my goodness hardly to be seen for the mists of distance and the slamming of cloister doors) for facts, a mistake arising from mistaking someone hugely ‘up there’ for god.

Well, now, I’ve already made a couple of etymological assertions that I can’t prove and for sure, I will not declare myself to be in possession of any sort of knowledge. But I do educate my guesses with honest care and I certainly hope you will give them them due and critique them with the same respectful courtesy I intend to offer those whose guesses differ from mine.

The rhyme I’m concerned with today, amusingly fictionally contextuallized by Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and traditionally illustrated with a depiction of two fat identical twin lads, goes like this:

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
Agreed to have a battle,
For Tweedle Dee said Tweedle Dum
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then a monstrous crow flew by,
As big as a tar barrel,
And frightened both the brothers so
They both forgot their quarrel.

Now I’d like to opine – er – yes, Friodur, you are correct, those red twirly-whirly things hanging off the sides of my face that look like the feathery gills of an axolotl are indeed my side whiskers, did you wish to make a comment upon them? No? Good. I’d like to opine that tweedle is a word to do with which tweed is another, or more intelligibly, the tweed part of tweedle is the tweed part of tweed. Tweed, now, is a river, isn’t it? an English river, or rather, in the interests of the exquisite accuracy we’re all aspiring assiduously to, aren’t we? a river in what is currently called England.

But it’s also a kind of woollen cloth, nicht wahr?
One of my warm woolly favourites, cosy and gorgeous. Mmmmmm! :).

No, Bernadette, I did not mean ‘to which we’re all aspiring assiduously’ – I prefer the grammatical option of using a preposition to end a clause with that I’ve availed myself determinedly of.

Of the ‘–le’ the ‘e’ is silent, so ‘-le’ is as we know pronounced ‘schwa+l’. ‘L’ in English is pronounced either as the first letter of ‘letter’, or as the last letter of the Cornish plural ending ‘–ow’. This is because the Cornish plural ending ‘–ow’ is the English word ‘all’, and vice versa. Both are variants of the Cornish word ‘oll’. Another variant, without leaving Britain, is the adjectival suffix ‘-al’ as in ‘feudal’. Don’t let anybody tell you it ‘came from’ or was ‘derived from’ or ‘borrowed from’ the Latin, just because it occurs also in Latin. They haven’t even got these bits of words fully and indisputably mapped yet, especially those that have been harvested from old texts without the help of hermeneuts of the impeccable character and superbulosity of geniosity of myself, so it’s far too soon to slam on vectors, i.e., guesses about which word moved to where from where when and how and under whose supervision. Wait till the dust has settled from the last mega-shake-up – the rise and fall of poor old Rome, blessed be she, and the Romanisation of the Fahken Catholic Church, poor beast!

The ‘–le’ of ‘tweedle’ then is the ‘–al’ of feudal, and is the remaining trace of a Brythonic plural ending which is ‘-au’ in Welsh if I’m not wrong, though the current pronunciation of -au in Welsh raises a question or two and when some quirk of Welsh pronunciation raises a question, it sort of tends metaphorically to be the raising of a scab and there’s usually some piece of schrapnel from some violation of Welsh heritage festering away under it and since it’s got nothing to do with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum I won’t go into it here, but fear not, beloved mabon, we’re breaking through) and so ‘Tweedle’ means Tweeds.

Tweeds are cloths, for making clothes. Weeds are among other things, clothing. It survives in the phrase ‘widow’s weeds’. So the weed part of tweed and the weed part of weed are the same word. So what’s the t?

Here’s my humble little guess, educated assiduously over a very long period of time spent poring over maps of the world with masses and masses of little wordlets snapped up from a whole array of wriggling, seething, constantly evolving, sometimes rapidly mutating, language-culture complexes, splattered and sprayed about over the map of the world with exquisite care and uncanny accuracy by my splendid self, though even I can be wrong sometimes, with particular attention paid to the little twiddly bits that everyone else seems to neglect or just make gruff sort of approximate noise re, through thickly beetling 19th century moustaches of academic respectability (otters, they all seem to be, which is to say, Arthurs) that seem to imply that it isn’t worth your academic career to look too closely at things like this, but there, who knows, there probably are just heaps of academics somewhere crouched just as securely and conscientiously over their tomes and charts who already know all about the meaning of t in the word tweed; they’re just not sharing it with us counter-culture independent scholars because it costs too much to publish abstruse etymological stuff and it sells to such a very restricted market, and they’re not going to put it on the web for free!!! – unless they have but no one has ever actually found it yet because they’re too poor to advertise, so you have to rely on the OED which is notoriously out of date with all except a few words that happen to have been enquired about by more than the critical mass of enquirers who could no longer stand the obvious erroniousness of what they found there; or the little paragraph on the right-hand bottom corner of the horoscopes and puzzles pages of your favourite family magazine, to get a sense of what the prevailing opinion is, and this might be because they KNOW it’s vulnerable to critique, and don’t want anyone to see, and that… why yes, Josephine, you are correct, that thin, grim, lipless slit under my nose and between my red-ginger curly-whirly whiskers that look remarkably like the gills of an axolotl now that you mention it, is indeed my mouth, and thank you for pointing out to us all its near resemblance to the mouth of a juvenile salamander.

Wriggly things? Why yes. Words are. And scuttly, too. No Wulftrout I see no real reason to address them through another metaphor. It’s much more tractable than the current one that wants us to see them all as trees, branches, twigs and leaves with no pleachings or mergings devourings or marryings, and everything all linear and all roads lead to Rome.

Yes, Roger, that was, I think, the bell for recess…

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