By The Landlord
Some time ago, scribing elsewhere, I swung open welcoming doors to customers with the following silly lines, introducing another area of interest. The Bar, as we now know it, was not even a twinkle, but it did very much exist in my method, my metaphor, and my mindset. And as it turns out, the following words were a form of written pre-echo to this week’s topic. So now, an echopraxia of my echolalia:
On entering the taphouse known by different nomenclatures - possibly Perusers Prescribe, now Measureaus Musicus or Shanty Speakeasy, the visitor approached the innkeep. "My good man, I am edacious. I have a rumblesome borborygumus. I fear no abligurition but also require canorous enrichment to cure my mullibrugs. Might you assist?"
The tavern master simpered acquiescently. "Indeed, sir, I not only can, I also concur. Let us together get gambrinous, engage in sonorous runcation, and enjoy mutual inaniloquence, for we both lean towards the hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian. Thus shall we select a fine inventory of euphonious canticles."
None of these words are unlikely to appear in any song lyrics. Or are they? This week the direction goes towards songs that include oddball, obscure, unlikely, grandly verbose, antiquated or historically defunct vocabulary you would not expect to find in popular, or for that matter any genre of songs. Previous topics have included strange or humorous song titles, and also the topic of choosing (right or wrong) words. They are different. But now, happily, my opening introductory two paragraphs make more sense for this topic than it ever did before.
Singing tends towards simplicity of vowel, consonant and syllable, and yet sometimes in songs strange words jump right out at you, either for their sound and musicality, or their comical, high-falutin inappropriateness. Most of us generally have a fully comprehensive vocabulary of around 10,000 words, some of the more learned, such as professors, might know as many as 20,000, but in terms of regular use, 4,000 pretty much covers it. Shakespeare’s proven written vocabulary however numbered around 32,000 words, but it’s quite possible, at a time of changing language, that he knew as many as 60,000. What a show-off.
On the other end of the scale some people get by on hardly any. When I was 17, I had a Saturday job in a department store warehouse in Manchester. There was a man there called Dave, who, admittedly, while he wasn’t the brightest penny in the jar, was quite a character and was often amusing his banter. He drove a forklift truck, which one day ground to sudden halt. At that moment he uttered the timeless declaration: “Oh fuckin’ fuck! The fuckin’ fucker’s fuckin’ fucked!” One word – several meaning s parts of speech covered. Articulate, but not as we know it.
This topic now also arises because this week I created a new weekly section at the Bar - Word! - in which I randomly pick unusual or musical-sounding words to see where they crop up in a variety of songs an encourage readers to join in. The first beginning with Z, of course, and being the rather musical ‘zephyr’. So this main topic is a much grander swish of the curtain, snip of the ribbon and and swing of the smashing bottle to help launch that smaller ship on its way. Thank you to those who’ve dropped in there already.
Why do songwriters use surprising words, or indeed names in lyrics? That doesn’t have to be the highly obscure, but things that go well beyong “Yeah, baby, I love you, c’mon”. A few commonly known examples. Sometimes it’s certainly from being pretentious. Sting of the the Police is no stranger to that, yet it can work: “It's no use, he sees her / He starts to shake and cough /Just like the old man in / That book by Nabokov.”
Some lyricists are simply articulate. Chuck D of Public Enemy is not afraid to tell it like it is in an educated way in his lyrical infrastructure, nor indeed were NWA using the word ‘predicate’ in their version of Express Yourself, as well as the rather vivid “Movin’ like a tortoise, full of rigor mortis.”
And to another form of death, another, oddly humorous line includes Tim Rice’s work in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when Joseph sings: "I shall now take them all for a ride; After all they have tried fratricide.” Oh brother, that’s strange, but it works. But musicals can also bring horribly contrived use of odd words too.
Blondie likes a few surprise words. Theosophy anyone? That’s entertaining. Radiohead sing about myxomatosis. Old-school songwriters such as Cole Porter are certainly a rich source of the clever, unusual word, as is Tom Lehrer, Vivian Stanshall, and They Might Be Giants. Lehrer’s Vatican Rag, for example, is a great source of verbal humour mixing the banal with the high-falutin: “2-4-6-8. time to transsubstantiate!”
The rhyming dictionary, and the thesaurus are also a great source of lyrical uexpectedness. In the Rain Song by Led Zeppelin, for example, it is theorised that the word quotient in “This is the mystery of the quotient / Upon us all, upon us all a little rain must fall,” appeared because they couldn’t find another word to rhyme with devotion and emotion. And in You’re So Vain by Carly Simon, whoever it was written about - Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger and more, it appears they liked to do an 18th-century dance, not because they actually did, but because she needed to rhyme with ‘yacht’, and ‘gavotte’ was perfect. As it turns out, it is, because it’s also pompous and paints a wonderful picture of the self-important subject.
I’ve discovered many great new words in the hurried process of writing this introduction. Fancy an octarius, anyone? That’s a pint. And talking of hurriedness, I need to get this done and quickly tidy up the Bar. Another word for this is a scurryfunge.
There are many sources of such great words on t’internet, during which I also discovered that another definition of email is a dark ink. Makes you think. One very nice one is this grandiloquent one, but others are available.
Anyway, I hope you, learned readers, will pick out many actual examples from songs, and decorate our establishment with them. Just for fun, I’ve gathered a few fun words, which may or may not appear in lyrics, but in which there’s a coded message:
whiskerando – a whiskered person
eellogofusciouhipoppokunuriou – very good or fine, though perhaps not if you’re trying to say or spell it
lobcock – bumpkin, boor or lout
chordee – not a form of musical chord, unfortunately, but a painful, downward-curving erection of the penis
oose – furry dust that gathers under beds
malacophonou – soft-voiced - as opposed to malacophilous, meaning pollinated by snails. Both soft, though
elflock – a strand of tangled hair
tintinnabulate – to ring; to tinkle, as opposed to tintinnabulum, a percussion instrument of many bells in succession
ocelot - also known as Leopardus pardalis, a stripy wild cat native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America.
thropple – throat or windpipe of an animal
humgruffin – a terrible person
epopee - an epic poem or saga
sarrusophone – a double-reeded musical instrument resembling the bassoon
oast – a kiln to dry hops or malt
nebbish or nebbich - a person, especially a man, who is regarded as pitifully ineffectual, timid, or submissive
grinagog – a person who is constantly grinning
bletherskate – a garrulous talker of nonsense
aye-aye – the endangered, big-eyed nocturnal lemur-like animal of Madagascar
rigadoon – lively Baroque period dance
And so then, I welcome back to the Bar that everlastingly articulate, artful and eloquent regular, EnglishOutlaw, who will no doubt work wonders with your words. Deadline? This Monday at 11pm UK time, for playlists published next Monday. Let’s dust off those words and give them some light.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.