Language is how we define the human condition: the more words we know the more precisely we can understand ourselves and the world we inhabit. Consequently, learning a lot of obscure and bizarre words makes it easier for us to explain the obscure and bizzare events that we experience; like undergoing bypass surgery, for instance, since "bypass surgery" or even "Coronary Arterial Bypass Graft" don't accurately describe the spine-chilling, Twilight Zone horror of that particular procedure with any fidelity. In fact, most medical terms provide profoundly inadequate descriptions of the grotesquely invasive processes that are performed in operating rooms across the world every day. Surely it is high time that the World Health Organization hired someone like myself to invent more realistic names for everything that happens in a hospital.
Anyway, recently, while skimming at pace through a Kindle ebook about ancient languages, it struck me - admittedly more like being flicked with a wet towel than being hit by a bolt of lightning, but struck me nonetheless - just how many these rich and colorful words are erased from human memory each day by the triumph of dreary modern diction. The English language, for example, could once boast many bizarre words, borrowed from now defunct foreign cultures, to build its own distinct vocabulary. Unfortunately many of these jaw-fracturing, multi-syllabic nouns, verbs and adjectives are now forgotten or ignored. Employ any obscure word with a Pictish root in conversation, for example, and your interlocutor will simply assume that you are in the preliminary stages of belching up an entire haggis. Similarly, although not as offensively guttural, using a Norman French word will merely convince others that you are making a euphemistic reference to the bathroom, when you were actually complimenting the new tapestry on their living room wall.
Of all the words that medieval Norman French contributed to the English language, Hurlegurgnon! is the most underused. Indeed, the word is so rare that I might be accused of merely inventing it to provide readable fodder for my humble blog. But why would a simple scribe such as I resort to such linguistic tricks, especially when the words means something absolutely repulsive and unpleasant?
Indeed, saying Hurlegurgnon! is so rude and impolite that I have only ever uttered it twice in public: once when I hit myself in the eye with an exploding cork from a misdirected champagne bottle; and secondly, and most memorably, when a surgeon removed three plastic feeder tubes from my poor stomach with three swift tugs. "Hurlegurgnon!" I cried as the alien apparatus slithered between my intestines and popped out of my body.
"I'm sorry but did you say something just now?" the surgeon asked.
"Yes. I'm afraid I yelled Hurlegurgnon!" I admitted.
"Nobody's ever come out with that before," he said laughing. "What is it, some sort of foreign swear word?"
"It was French about a thousand years ago." I explained. "But it got assimilated into English when the Normans invaded before falling out of common usage." I explained. "So, yeah, basically I guess you could call Hurlegurgnon! an archaic foreign swear word. It's the kind of thing an eleventh century French knight might have said as he fell into a Saxon shield-wall. And later his descendants might have muttered it under their breath when dealing with surly English tenant farmers."
"I see," he nodded. "So what does Hurlegurgnon! actually mean?"
"I'll tell you after the nurses have left." I said. "The definition is unsuitable for airing in mixed company, even if that mixed company does spend much of its working day coping with some extremely grotesque and disgusting problems."
Alas, the surgeon's pager immediately summoned him to another part of the hospital before I could impart the information, so I suppose he remains ignorant of the meaning to this day. A shame, really, since most lexicographers would conclude that Hurlegurgnon!, when employed in certain contexts, has distinctly medical applications. If pushed I would even suggest that the Coronary Arterial Bypass Graft procedure itself should be renamed "the Hurlegurgnon! Gambit" - I will give that one to the World Health Organization for free.