Friday, 21 October 2016

Bless each honey bole

In the second of his Radio 4 series on the Robber Barons, Adam Smith (stop sniggering at the back – it's just a name) played a clip from The Ballad of Casey Jones in the background of his account of the life of Jay Gould. The link was clearly appropriate: Gould made his millions from railways.

But it brought to mind an early board-treading occasion in the life of the young... well, me.
In a Gang Show produced  in the very early '60s (or even late '50s) the 20th Ealing (St Benedict's) Wolf * Cubs sang what I presume was a precursor of that ballad:  Steamboat Bill. I say presumably because either way it was a pretty close-run thing. The song narrates a steamboat accident suffered by Steamboat Bill "trying to beat the record of the Robert E. Lee" and that record was set during Casey Jones's childhood (in 1870, a few months before his 7th birthday.)

And  the last lines involved the captain's widow telling her children ("Bless each honey bole lamb" [the hastily typed script featured that gross typo, and I always remember the  meaningless version, and then wonder why it doesn't rhyme with the last line:
 The next papa you have'll be a railroad man

] – which suggests that Peak-Steamboat preceded Peak-Railroad, although there was a fair overlap between the two forms of transport.
Anyway, as I wrote elsewhere songs interbreed and cross-fertilize quite prolifically in the Folk Process, and my reaction on hearing the tune – Why are they playing Steamboat Bill in the background of a piece about railroads? – was unreasonable.

Word Watch

As I was listening to the TMS commentary this morning, my mind was arrested (I don't think  that's too strong a word) by a commentator saying that someone had "wrestled the initiative". "Doesn't he mean wrested?" I thought. And then I had the further thought "What's the difference between wresting and wrestling?"

As often, I looked to the British National Corpus for answers, and came up with these two results:
Search results for "Wrestle the <noun>"

Search results for "Wrest the <noun>"
Regular readers may have noticed that I haven't done my usual thing of giving links to actual searches, because in this case my point is made by the results rather than by their relative weights (although it's true that "wrest the <noun>" is three times more common than "wrestle the <noun>"). The more significant difference is that the objects of wrest are generally abstract, whereas the objects of wrestle are generally concrete.

But here are some links anyway, as my screengrabs aren't too clear:
(Update: 2020.08.18.17:05 – BNC has stopped supporting these links.
I'm leaving them in the no doubt unrealistic hope that
Things Will Change For The Better).

This calls to mind an ertswhile colleague's answer to the question  "What's the difference between hardware and software?" Hardware hurts when you drop it on your foot. 
In other words (as a dictionary might have told me, though most [if not all] modern dictionaries are corpus-based, and I generally prefer primary sources) the words mean different things. They are, of course, etymologically linked. The $10 word, for what it's worth, is frequentative; the ending -le often marks a frequentative – usually in verbs (like tinkle and tingle), but often in other word classes; a frequentative, for example, is at the root of puddle.

puddle (n.) Look up puddle at
early 14c., "small pool of dirty water," frequentative or diminutive of Old English pudd "ditch," related to German pudeln "to splash in water" (compare poodle). Originally used of pools and ponds as well. Etymonline

So that cricket commentator, when he said "wrestle the initiative", was .... (I hesitate to say wrong; maybe just...) 'at the leading edge of yet another simplifying language change that I, pointlessly, regret'.


PS Here are a couple more clues:

  • See angry hens with alibi when subjected to reformation or some other blip in Church history. (11,6)
  • The misfit rethought anachronistic point of view. (9)

* Re this old-style name of what are now called Cub Scouts, see the PS to this.

Update: 2016.10.21.19:55 – Added BNC links.

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