In Sickness

In November 1954 the Radio Times gave a synopsis of The Goon Show, which introduced the term ‘the dreaded lurgi’ – I am starting with this, a) because I’ve got it, and b) because it is such a spoken term that the OED spelling is surprising. Urban Dictionary online likes ‘lurgy’, while according to Wikipedia Michael Quinion, in ‘The Dreaded Lurgi’ in World Wide Words, notes a folk-etymology from the dialectal ‘fever-lurgy’. The expected spelling, as I realized that I had never written this down, was ‘lurgey’.


With such comforting thoughts in mind, and body, we offer, to start the new year, two pages from René Delcourt’s 1917 publication Expressions d’Argot Allemand et Autrichien, dealing with sickness. Much of this requires school-level French and/or German for full enjoyment, and though discriminatory use of ‘Google translate’ can be some help, we would rather recommend Collins online – with the latter ‘Knochenschuster’ comes out as the plausible ‘bone-cobbler’, while Google translate gives ‘knuckle-shoemaker’.


Some of these are exuberantly cynical – the nurse as Pisspottschwenker (maybe ‘pisspotshaker’) or Hämorrhoidforscher (haemorrhoid-hunter), doctor as Pflasterschmierer (plaster-dauber). La Chaudepisse is gonorrhea, and morpions are pubic lice, or crabs; both of these are surprisingly missing from Leroy’s 1922 A Glossary of French Slang. There are the expected blamings for STDs – in the German view both the French and the Turks take responsibility for syphilis. The STD inspection corresponds to the English ‘Short Arm’ parade, as in Downing’s Digger DialectsSchwanz is slang for ‘penis’.


Also missing is anything corresponding to the most expected, and most disappointing, medical treatment offered to British soldiers – the ‘No. 9’,a purgative pill, which has survived in popular culture as the bingo-caller’s ‘Doctors Orders, Number 9’.


Delcourt states in the preface that he is addressing this book to soldiers (‘I don’t write for nuns’, he quotes), and sees it as a work in progress (forcément imparfaite, mais … perfectible), which explains the ‘die Parade blank’. At the end of the book are three forms which can be used to send in to the editor corrections or additions. The contributor is asked to send his or her name and address, the word or expression, its meaning, and an example of it in use. Were any contributions were sent in, and if so, what happened to them? According to the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France there was only the 1917 edition.


delcourt 59

delcourt 60








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