Hi. I am starting a new series of blog posts Owl About Words, in place of authors’ quotes on books and reading that I have been sharing every month until now.
It was prompted by my finding a delightful, old book at my parents’ place, called Just Another Word. Written by a British journalist, Ivor Brown – who, I discovered, has written a host of books on words, language and famous British authors – it is a delightful guide to the world of words. Some old, some new, some still in use, others whose usage has changed beyond words, many that have fallen out of our vocabularies, and some that we might never even have heard of.
This post, for example, is about a word that Ivor Brown found while reading a play titled Epicoene or The Silent Woman, by Ben Jonson. Clogdogdo. Never heard of it? Well, here are some of Ivor’s thoughts on the use of the word.
Captain Otter’s sexist attitude was enough to send me searching for the play on the internet, which is available as a free download on Google Books.
Besides the lively London Ladies Clubs of 1609 that Ivor refers to, the play Epicoene is quite telling of the social norms of the period. It is about a man, who can’t bear to hear the slightest noise, marrying a silent woman, whose talk he doesn’t have to suffer. Hmm… the past 400 years don’t seem to have made much of a difference in men’s attitudes, have they?
The various machinations of his friends to warn him against it, and then to celebrate it over a feast leads to a group of ladies who call themselves the Collegiates being invited. The women are remarkably independent and speak their minds, though they don’t have much of a part.
At the feast, it turns out that the silent lady, Epicoene, too can indeed speak.
But guess what? The man immediately wants a divorce. And the lady in question turns out to be a young boy in disguise, in a plot designed by the man’s scheming nephew to get a share of his uncle’s estate.
Clogdogdo was obviously just invented by Ben Jonson on the spur of the moment. I doubt if it has ever been used again.