Monday, 8 May 2017

Unwitting puns

The oldest secular building in Rye is the Ypres Tower. It's been many things in its time, particularly a prison. One part of the prison was built on in the 19th century.
...Only a few stone buildings survive, one being the one we known as Ypres Tower. . The Court Hall was one casualty of this raid, and while a new one was being built, the Tower was used for Corporation business and the various courts. In 1421, all offenders were ordered to attend here on pain of a fine of 12 pence which suggests that part of it was also used as a prison.

However, in 1430 the Tower was leased to one John de Ypres (hence the name), for use as a private residence, with the proviso that ‘the Mayor Jurats and Commonality’ could enter it at a time of hostility or war for the purpose of town defence. Fortunately the attack never came.

In 1484 or 1494 the Corporation rented the Tower for use as a prison, and in 1518 bought the freehold — for £26; shortly afterwards a new roof and new floors were added.

Source


And in a later addition ("changes follow[ing] the 1830′s legislation to improve prison conditions: a new exercise yard (the present Medieval Garden), four additional cells, and a tower for housing women prisoners (the focus of the ongoing Women’s Tower Project...)" on a recent visit I saw what may have been a 20th-century pun by a garden designer with a sense of humour – although quite possibly the pun was unintentional and the garden designer was as po-faced as they come....

A feature of spoken English is often known (misleadingly) as Cockney Rhyming Slang – "misleadingly" because much of the known (and growing) corpus of terms has no links with Cockney. While Tom may well have originated in Cockney criminal cant as meaning jewelry (Tom foolery/jewelry), the professional wrestler's Doin' yer Gregory (meaning feigning an injured neck [Gregory Peck]) did not.

But one word that is a good candidate for having a criminal background is porridge (meaning time in jail) –  borage and thyme/time... which brings us back to that waggish garden designer. One of the main herbs in the Medieval Garden was borage. "Why no thyme?" I hear a doubting mutter. O ye of little faith. Thyme prefers to grow in full sun. Imagine an aetiolated thyme seedling reaching up forlornly for
 that little tent of blue
  Which prisoners call the sky

<autobiographical_note>
The Ypres Tower is managed by the National Trust – a marvellous institution though  possibly natural home of  folk etymology. Unquestioning "derivations" I have heard from tour guides include
  • face the music – turn round and sing a solo, facing the music from the back of a chapel
  • nod off – from church pews designed with a sloping seat to prevent worshippers from  going to sleep
  • learn the ropes – what growing gentlemen had to do in the nursery (using model ships) before taking a commission in the Navy
  • Humpty Dumpty  – English Civil War gun
  • one that's so improbable I can't remember it – it was something to do with a hangman: kick the bucket, maybe...
  • etc etc... They are a well-intentioned lot, but one has to carry a large block of rock-salt...(Hmm, is it pinch or grain...?)
<digression type="certainty versus uncertainty">
The Phrase Finder seems quite sure about Learning the ropes...
A nautical term, from the days of sailing ships when new recruits had to learn how to tie knots and which rope hauled up which sail. After which of course they would know the ropes.
... but less so about knowing them:
There is some doubt about the origin of this phrase. It may well have a nautical origin. Sailors had to learn which rope raised which sail and also had to learn a myriad of knots. There is also a suggestion that it comes from the world of the theatre, where ropes are used to raise scenery etc [HD: see PPS].
</digression>

During that visit to Rye I went to Hastings,    where in another museum I saw what a deadeye  was. The picture on the right shows a single one (alias bull's eye). But more  ambitious sailing ships had the more complex triple deadeye shown below. When, as a 10-ish year-old I went to my big sister's school production of The Captain of the Pinafore I assumed ...
<meta_digression>
(probably anachronistically, as the Wiktionary definition of Deadeye Dick as "An especially accurate marksman" probably  post-dates the days of sail [and certainly post-dates the days of accurate marksmanship])
</meta_digression>
---that W.S. Gibert's character Dick DeadeyePS was a sort of Butch Cassidy.

A triple deadeye
</digression>
</autobiographical_note>

Which (oh do keep up – theatrical scenery) brings me to my other unwitting pun (although I wouldn't put it past the speaker to have known what he was doing). A recent Book of the Week (start here, but it went on all week) was Nicholas Hytner's Balancing Acts  (which unaccountably didn't mention me, his near-contemporary at Cambridge; we may have bumped into each other at an ADC party).

He was talking about the NT version of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. In this they had to represent the characters' daemons – played by puppets (which the NT players had no experience of dealing with). For the later production of War Horse, he said, they didn't confront the problem in the same "cavalier" fashion. The word cavalier has an obvious connection with horses, although this usage (arrogant/disdainful) presumably relates to the demeanour of a Cavalier (right but romantic) (as opposed to a Roundhead – wrong but revolting).

But I can't put it off any longer: HMRC – need I say more? (Probably, for non-UK readers: HMRC is otherwise known as the taxman.

b

Update: 2017.05.0916:25 –Fixed a clutch of typos, and added PS

PS
I got the words the wrong way round yesterday, but the Deadeye comes second.

Update: 2017.05.10.17:10  – Added PPS.

PPS
According to this there's a link between the two. If theatre technicians were out-of-work sailors who whistled signals to each other (because a whistle is more audible than a shout in stormy weather),  this explains the superstitious avoidance of whistling backstage. In the days before head-sets and radio mikes, a rogue whistle could reward the siffleur with a sandbag or flat in the face – or on the head.

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