“After weeks sitting at the computer, I am unmistakably DESKET (‘dazed, inactive, stupid, dull, as a person’)”
At this time of year, the build-up of desket syndrome at SF HQ is increasingly problematic, and the prospect of escaping the city for a dose of the natural world becomes more appealing by the day. High up on our current wish list of excursions is a day out at The Word-Hoard exhibition at William Wordsworth’s childhood home in the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth. Not least because we’ve teamed up with The National Trust to offer Slightly Foxed subscribers 2-for-1 adult entry to the house, garden and exhibitions.
Our friend and Slightly Foxed contributor Robert Macfarlane has guest curated the current exhibition, The Word-Hoard: Love Letters to Our Land, which builds on themes he explored in his bestselling book, Landmarks, and celebrates the beauty of our landscape and the evocative language once used to describe it. It features images by his parents, Cumbrian-based photographers Rosamund and John, alongside some of the endangered words for our landscape, weather and nature that Robert has collected.
He spent two years gathering as many place-terms and nature-words as possible, from more than thirty languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland, and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation. ‘Once you know the word smeuse, for instance, an old Sussex term for the “hole in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”, you begin to spot smeuses everywhere. Without words, the landscape can easily become a blandscape: generalized, indifferent, unobserved.’
Other words in his hoard include foggit, a Scots term for ‘covered in moss or lichen’; shuckle, Cumbrian for icicle, and pirr, Shetlandic for a ‘light breath of wind that ruffles the surface of the water’.
Inspired by this exhibition of wild words, we burrowed into our archive of back issues to find an article Robert wrote for Slightly Foxed last year, in which he delights in dialect and explores the language of landscape. We feel sure that many of you are similarly entranced by unusual words so if you have any favourites of your own, we’d love to hear them. You can get in touch with us by scrolling down to the footer of the newsletter for our various social media handles and other contact details. Meantime, please come with us on a lexicological jaunt with our self-professed ‘wordy ghost’.