Friday, 3 January 2014

Deck the WHAT?

 ...the boxer, perhaps... But no, this is the last of my semi-festive posts – honest. 'Tis the season for reviews of the year, lifestyle detoxing, etc – never mind being jolly.

Two weeks ago this query appeared at

hello! i want to write something for my twitter bio. please help me with these sentences, which one is the most correct?

  1. History nerd and gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.
  2. A history nerd and gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.
  3. A history nerd and a gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.

One reply referred to the carol 'Deck the halls' My lip twitched, but didn't curl (out of respect for writer). But brought up, as I was, on the David Willcocks setting, I usually look daggers at any fellow chorister who makes the hall plural.

Part of the following discussion (now deleted as it was fun but not particularly illuminating) involved somebody's contention that this sort of deck was derived from decorate. Well, NO. They're related of course, being both derived from the Proto Indo European *dek-. But they both appeared in Middle English  at more or less the same time in the historical record: deck / decorate. Both early 15th century.

The first is, some would say, archaic, though the British National Corpus lists 101 cases of decked, of which the first 20 are these:

1 A0D W_fict_prose A B C ...Mother in full evening dress decked out in false pearls, her eyelashes beaded with mascara, dominating the stage in
2 A6N W_fict_prose A B C ...was amateur. A group of girls decked with medals danced. A blue-suited man sang. An old man played several airs
3 ABW W_fict_prose A B C occasion ...caused the cottage to be decked with red, white and blue bunting. The Post Office was a great centre
4 ACK W_fict_prose A B C ...were shown round by the WEA class decked out as praetorian guards and vestal virgins. Now here's Mike with Jilly's
5 CAB W_fict_prose A B C ...her into silence. She was decked out in her Sunday best. A pink pillar-box hat was perched precariously on her
6 CDY W_fict_prose A B C ...very upright, like a wizened doll, decked out in a bright flowery overall with carpet slippers on her feet. Her hair
7 CE5 W_fict_prose A B C ...equally between life and death, was decked out like the inside of a spaceship. Wires, screens, machines and consoles
8 CMP W_fict_prose A B C court uniforms so decked with gold that their coats seemed like sheets of light. There were jewelled stars
9 EFW W_fict_prose A B C ... mere heap of bones decked with cinnamon whiskers, had summoned a little energy with which to pour scorn on
10 EWF W_fict_prose A B C ...for festal purpose decked With unrejoicing berries -- ghostly shapes May meet at noon-tide; Fear and trembling Hope
11 FNT W_fict_prose A B C the mirror.' I look ridiculous decked out like this.' As ridiculous as my mother, she thought to herself
12 FNT W_fict_prose A B C ...Katherine and Leo waited in a living room decked in flowers and soft lights for the first guests to arrive. Katherine in a
13 FPX W_fict_prose A B C ...She entered the theme room, which was decked out to look like the great hall of a medieval castle. She was to
14 FR3 W_fict_prose A B C ...scattered pustules that had decked my chin and brows for the past year had begun to mass, forming formidably
15 FR9 W_fict_prose A B C ...A number of L and C supporters, decked out in the team's lime green and guava fruit colours, decided to swop
16 FU8 W_fict_prose A B C ...bulk of elephants. Decked in tasselled yellow howdah cloths and ridden by straw-hatted Annamese mahouts perched
17 GWF W_fict_prose A B C ...' seeing your company so finely decked out for travelling, if you were by any chance headed the same way?
18 H84 W_fict_prose A B C ...body emptied, dried out, repacked, decked out for the long night, bandaged in the finest linen with the scarab placed
19 H94 W_fict_prose A B C ...the displays on a gaily decked stall, Meredith gently extracted her father's gold mask from the tissue in which
20 H9G W_fict_prose A B C ...Everything swept and everything decked for welcome # Open doors, open arms, open faces, eyes raised,
A few of the remaining 81 may involve fisticuffs, but all these use the word in the lavishly/garishly/demonstratively/excessively/vulgarly... decorated sense. See more here.

A version of decked that is less arguably archaic is bedecked, with only 38 hits. Which reminds me of another properly archaic word.
<biographical_note date_range="early sixties">

One short-lived New Year's resolution involved picking an obscure word and trying to drop it naturally into conversation as often as possible in the following week. (I have a feeling The Readers' Digest's 'It pays to increase your word power' may have been involved in some way.) My last word, in the second week, was bedizened. The Collins Dictionary has an unsung feature that gives usage trends:

The first of those spikes (annoyingly there's no scale) may have been MY work. (Incidentally, for some reason, while you're visiting that Collins page, you are invited to Like it... :-?)

Right. Back to the harmless drudgery.


Update 2014.01.04.13:25 – Lots of ellipses in BNC data to keep it within bounds
Update 2014.01.04.20:55 – Added PS
PS I was rereading this, and noticed that  all those 20 hits were W_fict_prose. I clicked on that to find out what it meant, and was reminded that I should have warned you: BNC's links refer to my session yesterday, and are no good. I visited again today and found that they are doubly no good, because they don't tell you what W_fict_prose is.

<autobiographical_note time_span="1971-1974" theme="CU_Footlights">
I'm reminded of a sketch I wrote with Martin Gayford, now an art critic (author of Man with a Blue Scarf ... inter alia) whose literary reputation will surely survive this revelation about his juvenilia. The sketch involved a customer talking to a mechanic; but the subject of the repair was a badly-worn edition of Shakespeare: 'The cauliflower of mercy is not strained... Dear oh lor', how long is it since you had this serviced?' – sort of thing. Anyway, one line was 'I'll have to refer the footnotes, and that could take weeks.'

The point of this digression (it did have one) is that  the only way to find out what W_fict_prose is is to read the BNC help (which isn't top of my list of priorities).

This category, whatever it is, accounts for more than ¼ of all occurrences of decked, and a slightly smaller proportion (8 out of 38) of all occurrences of bedecked  – which suggests that, if not archaic, the word is at least literary.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 36,100 views  and nearly 5,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1821 views/844 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment