Key’s Cupboard : Bewolfenbuttled!

Key's Cupboard

Some years ago, in the pages of The Grauniad, A S Byatt wrote “most people know [Sir Charles Sherrington’s] description of the waking brain as ‘an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern…’”. Really? Do most people know this? I suppose such hauteur is to be expected from the author who revealed, in an interview, that “my children call me A S Byatt”. (Ever since I read that I have been referring to her as “Mum”.)

This by way of preamble, and a reminder to myself to write, not “most people know” but rather, among the literate, it is reasonably well-known that Horace Walpole coined the word “serendipity”. It was not the only coinage of the inveterate letter-writer, sat at his escritoire in Strawberry Hill with a bucket of ice at his side in which to plunge his gout-ravaged feet. There is another of his words which I think we should do our best to reintroduce to common parlance.

When the future George III was a teenager, his grandfather tried to marry him off to a European princess, much to the dismay of George’s mother. The name of the princess was Sophia Caroline Maria, daughter of the Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Under his mother’s influence, George became fretful and aghast at the proposal. In a letter to Richard Bentley dated 19 October 1755, Horace Walpole wrote “Her ladyship’s eldest boy declares violently against being bewolfenbuttled – a word which I don’t pretend to understand, as it is not in Mr Johnson’s new dictionary”.

To revive the word successfully, we may have to widen the definition of bewolfenbuttlement from “being forced into an aristocratic arranged marriage”. So, next time you are cajoled or pressed unwillingly into doing something you do not wish to do, cry “Lawks-a-mercy, guvnor, save me! I’m being bewolfenbuttled!”

I have every confidence it will catch on.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

10 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : Bewolfenbuttled!

    October 8, 2010 at 09:09

    Not only am I going to use it, but I’m going to precede it with: “Most people know that when the future George III was a teenager, his grandfather tried to marry him off to Sophia Caroline Maria, daughter of the Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, but did you know that in a letter to Richard Bentley, Horace Walpole wrote…”

    ian russell
    October 8, 2010 at 09:22

    Only the other day I saw sprayed upon the bus shelter,


    October 8, 2010 at 09:49

    Pure Tolkien, Shelob’s favourite profanity, Wasn’t the Duchess of Braunschweig Boris’s great auntie? if not she sounds like she ought to have been.

  4. Worm
    October 8, 2010 at 10:09

    sounds painful

    October 8, 2010 at 10:56

    Righto, but it might mean I’ll have to forgo using ‘barmworzled’ and ‘skuddleflumped’. Good solid Angl-Saxonisms that seem to do the job more satisfactorily than the very Teutonic Bewolfenbuttled.

  6. Brit
    October 8, 2010 at 10:57

    A commendably patriotic objection, Recusant.

    Gadjo Dilo
    October 8, 2010 at 11:18

    Parallel to the use of the old name for Sri Lanka to create the noun ‘serendipity’, I wonder if the Celts/Angles/Saxons/Piltdown Man coined a word from ‘Britain’ when they had discovered it. Maybe it was ‘Britney’.

    October 8, 2010 at 11:51

    As everyone is gasping in anticipation here’s what a proper Wolfenbüttel looks like, at least from the fourth floor bog window of the Volksbank in the Aussichtsplatz, another boring rebuilt Kraut tourist trap.

    Looked much better when Onkel Addie and his mates were strutting their stuff.

    October 8, 2010 at 19:14

    Intriguing word.. and, relevant or not, I was curious to discover there’s an American hard rock band called Steppenwolf…

    October 8, 2010 at 20:26

    Of course, Susan – they were Born to be Wild….

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