Category Archives: linguistics

“Bloody Norah!” – Who was she?

Bloody Nora in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is totally irrelevant to what follows…

Yesterday, my eternally un-named friend mused on the origin of the phrase “Bloody Norah!” (or “Bloody Nora!”) – a British exclamation used to convey surprise, contempt or frustration.

I had no idea where this came from.

Apparently the phrase is rare or non-existent in the USA and Canada but it is common in British, Australian and New Zealand slang, with “Flaming Nora!” as an alternative.

I think, like many a bizarre saying, no-one really knows the origin.

But the Guardian’s late-lamented Notes & Queries section had a stab at it (with readers’ suggestions).

And here (risking copyright infringement) is what they reckoned…


SEMANTIC ENIGMAS

Who was Bloody Norah and why is she used as an exclamation?

  • Bloody Norah was originally called Norah and the maid for the wealthy Duke Wodingtonshire in the 17th century. She earned the name Bloody Norah after she killed a servant of the duke with a stick of celery. When the Duke caught her repeatedly slapping the bloody corpse with the stick of celery he shouted “Oh dear god, you’re all bloody, Norah….” and, after beating her, he banished her to a basement cell for 3 years.

    When the 3 years was up, the Duke set her free but Norah insisted on working for the Duke. Reluctantly the Duke gave her a job cleaning the stables only to find 4 days later she had killed another servant, this time with a kettle. When the Duke found her once again maiming her victim with the dented kettle, he cried, “Oh, bloody Norah!” and grabbed a horseshoe in an attempt to kill Norah.

    After a long struggle, Norah escapes, leaving the battered Duke cussing to himself: “Bloody Norah!”.

    The expression came from the Duke himself, as he would tell the story of Norah to all he knew and would always refer to her as “Bloody Norah”.

    As the Duke aged he grew senile, he would be heard talking to himself and shouting: “….BLOODY NORAH!!!!……”. And, as people around saw him still as a respected figure in the community, they all started saying “Bloody Norah!” as they all thought the Duke has invented a new cuss word. It has stuck until the present day.
    (Ronnie, Essex, UK)
    I think Norah’s up there with “Gordon Bennett”, “Christchurch Cathedral” and “Blood & Sand” as a way of pretending not to swear once you’ve started. Similarly “God blind me” has become “Cor Blimey” and “By Our Lady” has become “Bloody”
    (Chris Bourne, Brussels, Belgium)
    ‘Nora’ is not a woman’s name but a form of the word ‘horror’. The phrase started off as “flaming horror” (or “flipping/bloody etc horror”) as a cry of dismay/disbelief. In the normal Cockney manner, the final ‘g’ and the opening ‘h’ were dropped to produce something that sounded like “flamin-orror” and that in turn over the years became “Flamin’ Nora!”…or “Bloody Nora” as a stronger alternative. So Nora wasn’t a person at all but the result of an accent.
    (David, Weybridge, England)
    During the 1990s in England a surge of mock-Cockneys arose and with it also surged their use of the irritating rhyming Cockney slang. This was one of the expressions that came about then; you will not find reference to it before then.
    (Laura Evans, Plaistow, London, UK)
    “Bloody Nora!” has been used in the London area for many years, in the same way as “Gawd Blimey!”. In the 1970s I recall an incident in a pub when a female friend arrived inappropriately dressed. When someone remarked “Bloody Nora!”, a Durham associate asked, “Oh, is her name Nora?”. The expression had obviously not travelled that far north.
    (Rob Harrington, Leyton, London, UK)

Basically, no-one really knows…

For example, the first explanation cites ‘Duke Wodingtonshire’ – a title which, as far as I know, has never existed.

The phrase was in common usage well before the 1990s. And “flamin-orror” turning into “Flamin’ Nora!” when said in a Cockney accent sounds more like something Dick Van Dyke might say in Mary Poppins rather than a real Cockney pronunciation.

“Blood and Sand!” – which I have never of heard before – is more cocktail than Cockney.

My eternally un-named friend is also not convinced it is possible to kill anyone with a stick of celery.

If it IS possible, I can only pray she never finds out details of the technique…

…and that talented storyteller ‘Ronnie from Essex’ writes a novel or a screenplay sharpish, incorporating the celery…

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ECCENTRIVIA – Clinton death, biscuits and criminal copper PC Oliver Banfield

Hillary Clinton – What was all that about?

Last night – as I have since May last year, I woke up every hour during the night with a parched dry mouth.

Twice when I woke up I was in the middle of a dream – different narrative dreams – where someone suddenly said: “Hillary Clinton’s dead!”

What was that all about?

********

At the moment, I also have occasional vertigo problems.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, wrote to say:

Two balls – “He had them indoors, en route to his loo…”

“Sorry to hear about your health problems with the balance. I think you should make sure there is nothing too weighty or sharp that you might fall upon en route to the loo.

“A friend of mine with a similar balance problem had a couple of large stone spheres on pedestals which used to be garden ornaments. He had them indoors, en route to his loo. 

“I insisted on taking them away, saying: Larry, I’m sorry but I’m removing your balls. I don’t want you getting hurt.

Anna, alas, does not say what Larry’s reaction was.

********

Keith suggests it is mucous causing my balance problem…

Ex ITV (et al) announcer Keith Martin, suggests I have a mucous disorder causing my balance problem. 

While he was at it, he also explained to me, in a non-segue, that the origin of the word ‘biscuit’ is French and it originally meant ‘baked twice’.

Who knew? Keith did.

And now the Americans have confused it all for no discernible reason.

If anything, they should be called bi-cookies

********

Criminal coppers’ cuffs (Photo by Bill Oxford via UnSplash)

Keith had read my latest blogs about the case in which criminally-inclined PC Oliver Banfield wantonly attacked and beat a woman walking home alone. 

He (Keith) suggested that the reason for the recent spate of crime committed by serving policemen (there was also Sarah Everard’s recent murder by a serving policeman) is that the police were told they had to be closer to the people they serve.

And, of course, they deal mostly with criminals.

********

This reminds me of the Stoke Newington police who were planting drugs on drug dealers not because they were frustrated by their inability to get genuine convictions but because they were getting rid of the competition – several of the officers at the local police station had a nice little – highly profitable – business going dealing drugs in the area.

Brian Sedgemore (Photo: Wikipedia)

In 1992, there was an Early Day Motion tabled in the House of Commons in unusually forthright language. I presume one of the sponsors – Brian Sedgemore, MP – had a lot to do with that. I encountered him, between his two stints as an MP, when we were both working at Granada TV in Manchester. 

The Early Day Motion on 31st January 1992 stated:

“That this House condemns those nasty, vile and corrupt police officers at Stoke Newington police station who have been engaged in drug trafficking and perverting the course of justice; is appalled that these officers should have betrayed the trust of people in Hackney in general as well as the trust of those who live in and around Sandringham Road, particularly those represented by the Montague Residents Association; notes that these officers have made a mockery of the way in which Hackney Council has co-operated with the police to get rid of drug dealing in Sandringham Road; notes that it now seems certain that at meetings and by letter Chief Superintendent Roy Clarke from Stoke Newington police station has misled the honourable Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about the true nature of the problems because he himself has been duped by his own police officers… and calls on the Home Secretary to set up an independent judicial enquiry.”

As far as I am aware, no independent judicial enquiry was set up.

********

PC Oliver Banfield (Photo: Channel 4 video)

Which brings us back to the appalling case of 6ft 2in tall copper/criminal PC Oliver Banfield attacking a random 5ft 2in woman in the street.

Banfield has now resigned from the police before he had to face a ‘misconduct investigation’ by his employers, West Midlands Police.

Sandra Smith, comedy fan par excellence who seems to have developed an interest in the PC Olver Banfield case, drew my attention to the latest media coverage of this – a Sky News report – which includes an interview with the victim – a mother-of-two – who, understandably, says:

“It’s kind of cowardly in a way, if you ask me, because I think he’s obviously hoping to make it go away… It’s affected the way I live my life; it’s affected the way I walk round the village that I’ve lived in all of my life… He’s been put on curfew (instead of a prison sentence) in a lockdown and that doesn’t make sense. We’re all on curfew so what’s he gonna learn or what’s he gonna gain from that?”

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The linguistic joy of the BBC Shipping Forecasts and the soothing Share prices

The joy of Fisher, Dogger, German Bight and sweet Rockall…

Today, my eternally-un-named friend drew my attention to the online Shipping Forecast page on BBC Sounds. She told me: “I really loved listening to the Shipping Forecast. In childhood it was on in the background… Fisher, Dogger, German Bight…”

I too have fond memories of the Shipping Forecast bulletin at the end of daily transmissions on BBC Radio 4. It was and still is the must-listen-to weather forecast for anyone in the seas around the British Isles. The sea is divided into areas including Faeroes, Fair Isle, North Utsire, South Utsire and sweet Rockall.

In the good old, long-gone days of my early youth, I not only found the Shipping Forecast soothing to listen to, but even more soothing was the now sadly abandoned reading of the latest Stock Market share prices – what were considered the main ones – at the end of (I think it was) the Radio 4 Ten O’Clock News every weekday evening.

It was so relaxing to listen to abstract words and numbers without having to concentrate on their meaning. It was like someone reading you a bedtime story in a foreign language where you understood the sounds of the words but not their meanings.

Listening to Italian-language comedy has much the same effect on me. I don’t speak Italian. But I enjoy listening to the linguistic rhythm of Italian jokes which I don’t understand.

If the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had combined the sound of the Shipping Forecast and the share prices and incorporated those into his Transcendental Meditation format, who knows how the world might have been changed for the better?

Sigh.

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One Dutchman’s poetic criticism of the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Yesterday’s blog was about bizarre spellings and pronunciations in the English language. I got a comment – and a poem – from Alan Gregory in Manchester. He wrote:

“I’ve always loved this poem despite never having been able to read it with 100% accuracy and being a native English speaker. Perhaps not surprisingly it was written by someone who wasn’t a native English speaker and was equally confused – Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946) was a Dutch writer, traveller, teacher and “observer of English”.

Alan says: “I am currently dodging COVID-19 as a key infrastructure worker in the power sector. My interest in language is mostly from my ex-wife who is a former food critic and university lecturer in English literature. Academically, in linguistic terms, I’m crap: got an E at GCSE English, yet a masters in business. So go figure.” 

Gerard Nolst Trenité published under the pseudonym Charivarius. He is best known in the English-speaking world for this 1922 poem The Chaos (Ruize-rijmen) which demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling. It first appeared as an appendix to his 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent (Engelsche uitspraakoefeningen).


Gerard Nolst Trenité had a pronounced interest in English

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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How Britain built an empire on the insanity of the English language…

A widespread Facebook linguistic gag of unknown origin…

What a load of bollocks the English language is.

I was talking to my eternally-un-named friend about the apostrophe (or not) in ‘It’s”.

“It’s” = It is.

But the possessive of it – “its” – for no logical reason – has no apostrophe.

No rhyme or reason.

It’s English!

I think I was over 30-years old when I found out the correct spelling is LIAISE not LIASE.

Totally mad.

English is designed to confuse foreigners… and sometimes native speakers.

I told my eternally-un-named friend: “English is mad. Even the so-called ‘rules’ are mad. There’s that saying Don’t forget it’s I before E except after C… But the truth is, although it is always E before I after C, it is not always I before E before C…

“That is how Britain won an Empire,” I told her, with some authority. “The British just confused foreigners into submission by teaching them the English language…although the way the English kept the Empire subdued for so long was by persuading other countries to play cricket – the most boring game on earth… The Scots never fell for this so we were never subjugated…”

I said all this, as I say, with some authority but, of course, my eternally-un-named friend – ever a dogged online researcher – came up with a quote to prove me wrong:

“As it turns out, for every ‘ceiling’ there’s a ‘concierge’, a ‘conscience’ and some ‘celibacies’. And for every ‘deceit’, there are ‘deficiencies’, ‘delicacies’ and ‘dicier’ things… The iciest glaciers make idiocies out of the conceit of Except after C.”

I tried to argue that ‘concierge’ is not really fully an English word, but I was outnumbered by her examples…

Oh the linguistic shame!

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