Thursday, January 19, 2006

Guess whoooo's still here

Photo by Bruce Yolton

Jack Meyer's daily report just in:

This morning the grand panjandrum of the park was in a tree just a little to the NE of its usual hangout, slightly nearer to Azalea Pond. I was about to give up on it when a flock of crows arrived and noisily pointed out the location.

PS from Marie:
For those word-lovers among you [maybe that includes every one of you], here is an amusing etymology for Jack's word "panjandrum". It's from a website called World Wide Words:


A mock title for a person, real or imaginary, who has or, claims to have, great influence or authority.

The actor Charles Macklin retired from the London stage in 1753 and opened an entertainment in Covent Garden that he called the British Inquisition. Every evening at seven o’clock this featured a lecture by Macklin followed by a debate. These became popular for a while; so much so that a playwright and fellow actor named Samuel Foote was provoked to attend. Among his many accomplishments, Foote was a master mimic, aided by a devilishly sharp wit; he seems to have barracked Macklin without mercy. Macklin was unwise enough to claim as part of a lecture on memory that his own was so highly trained he could remember any text he had read just once. Foote composed on the spot as a challenge a bit of nonsense that has since become famous:

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. “What! No soap?” So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

It is said that Macklin was so indignant at this nonsense that he refused to repeat a word of it. Most of Foote’s invented words in this piece vanished as quickly as they appeared, but grand panjandrum survived to become a part of the language, no doubt because of its cadence and internal rhyme, and was later shortened just to panjandrum.

(By the way, though no soap appears in Foote’s piece, it is unlikely that he is the source of the expression, which first appeared in America more than a century later. If Foote had been the origin, we would have expected some examples to turn up between these dates.)