Friday, 9 March 2007

Money is tight, not trousers

The author Kathryn Hughes has a witty and perceptive piece in today’s Guardian, entitled Never mind the cleavage, making the point that Jane Austen’s books are really about money, not love*.

Admirers of Jane will have been pleased to learn that several more adaptations of her work are currently on the stocks, although, as Hughes points out, from the way in which these are being marketed you would think that all she ever wrote about was Love, and How to Find It.

With my unerring instinct for noting unimportant and uninteresting details, I have been struck by the fact that in no less than three reports in the media, including Hughes’, the forthcoming productions have been referred to as a slew of Jane Austen adaptations; it's not a common word, so this seemed odd.


To my ear this word, like plethora, suggests
an unhealthy or undesirable quantity; I mean, no-one would boast that he had a slew of beautiful girlfriends. But the dictionary, at least the OED, does not support this, merely saying that it means:
A very large number of, a great amount of, and is colloquial (orig. U.S.) and an adaptation of the Irish slua(gh): crowd, multitude.

That is not very exciting and, as so often happens when dipping a toe into the OED, I was then irresistibly drawn towards further uninteresting (in this case slew-related) information. The meaning above is only the third of four. There is also:
1 ME sloo: (U.S. and Canada). A marshy or reedy pool, pond, small lake, backwater, or inlet.
2 The position to which a thing has been turned (from the verb)
4 A filling made of two or more strands worked together (a term in basketry)

However, after ploughing through all this tedium I was rewarded when I followed a link in the sloo definition inviting me to look up slough. This has six meanings and the first is:
OE. Slóh, of doubtful origin; perhaps ultimately related to SLONK: A piece of soft, miry, or muddy ground; esp. a place or hole in a road or way filled with wet mud or mire and impassable by heavy vehicles, horses, etc.

These are deep [and muddy] waters, Watson. But never mind about John Bunyan….


At last something really useful! As a verb, it’s:
Of obscure origin: To swallow greedily
…and as a noun:
Of doubtful origin: LG. slunk, G. dial. schlunk, schlonk: gullet

Enough of all that. It is now nearly midday: time, I think, to slonk a slew of gin-and-tonic down my schlunk.

(*Except, of course, for her great treatise on the implements of naval warfare)


Minerva said...

This is marvellous. Quite possibly the best OMF post yet. I completely agree with the slightly perjorative connotation to 'slew' and am surprised that isn't mentioned at all.

As for 'slonk', just thank you. Thank you,


Tony said...

No, thank you, Min.
I shall re-read this comment whenever I have one of those days when I feel "What's the sense in going on?"

Amanda said...

You might enjoy Flann O'Brien's discourse on clichés relating to amount:

"What is the unit of measurement applied generally to commodities or articles which are available in gigantic quantities?
The oodle.
When stout is available in large quantities at a party, what are the usual links of measurement?
But where the quantity available is unprecedentedly large, what additional units of measurement must be resorted to in order to adequately describe the quantity?
From the Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché

Tony said...

Thanks oodles, Amanda!