Sunday, 17 January 2010

This is a Clog Blog

When trying to decided what to do this next blog entry on (because I AM going to keep this up!), I stumbled upon a beautiful little proverb I'd never heard before. I'll admit it doesn't make much sense the first time around, but I liked it and it won't take too long to read/write about. Take a look...

"From clogs to clogs is only three generations"

Now, when I first read that, I went down completely the wrong track. I started wondering if it meant a pair of clogs are supposed to last through to your grandchildren, or something. So, if you were about to prudently invest in a set of wooden soles, you're not alone (but don't because that's not what it means!).

If we want to understand this turn of phrase, it's best to go back to its roots. Although it's believed to have originally come from Lancashire, the earliest related phrase (and I'm excluding some stuff by Dryden because it's too tenuous) comes from a book called Scottish Proverbs by a J. Kelly, dated at 1721. Here, Kelly documents the phrase...

"The Father buys, the Son biggs, his Grandchild sells, and his Son thiggs."

And there you have it. What, that doesn't make sense? Sigh... "biggs" means "builds" and "thiggs" means "begs". Eeeeeveryone knows THAT, right? Anyway, once you've got the lingo down, the whole mystery behind the clogs wears away like well-used shoes. It's summed up in the 7th installment of the 4th series of Notes and Queries in 1871 thus...

"However rich a poor man may eventually become, his grandson will certainly fall back into poverty and 'clogs'"

That, by the by, is the same place that tells us it's a proverb from Lancashire, even though it was published in its other form in Scottish Proverbs exactly 150 years before. Even Dryden (if we are to include him from even earlier) came from Northhamptonshire, so maybe they got to Lancashire as an average between the two.

"But is there anything we can look at in the language, here?" I hear you/my hedonistic internal voice cry. Well, calm down, dear reader/worrying uncontrolled persona. It might not be the best for that sort of analysis, but we can give it a go. If anything, the "clogs" make the sentence. There is another version of the proverb which used "shirtsleeves" instead, and was supposedly invented by Carnegie (that's the late 19th century), despite there being no record of it in his literature. I suppose that was an attempt to bring the phrase up to date, but "clogs" still clip-clopped alongside the newer alternative. There's something in the bluntness of that monosyllabic bit if onomatopoeia that really breathes life into the sentence. If you like, it's the sound I imagine comes into the grandson's head as his financial world clogs to the ground around him ("clog" is now a verb. Spread the word!). It's not much, but it's something to think about.

So, that's pretty much it for today, but there's one last thing here to distract you. How accurate is this saying, do you reckon? Yes, modern royalty and such might be an exception, where they can sit smugly behind the walls of tradition, but what about the rest of us? It occurred to me that the Great Depression happened about 90 years ago, when my great-granddad, if he hadn't disappeared in a sodden Ypres, would have been in his thirties. From then on in, the piggy bank's been building back up, until we get to the grand-kids. What have we done? Look around you, and buy some shares in Sanita. Together, we can bring back clogs (they should be grateful. I bet not every clog company gets free advertising like this...).

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting Ma-- I mean, Wordy Wookie! You're very informed for someone your age, you put me to shame!
    Keep writing, I shall certainly keep reading!