Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bertie and the Purler

I learned a new word this week thanks to Bertie Wooster, P.G. Wodehouse’s famous character of Bertie and Jeeves fame. I just had to reread Code of the Woosters again, considered by many to be one of the all time greatest comic novels. As Bertie would say, “and it did not disappoint.” It’s a veritable Gordian knot of plot twists and it shakes me loose of all encumbering baggage. Good medicine.
In C of the W, Bertram is a guest at Totleigh Towers, country estate of Sir Watkyn Bassett, father to “God’s Daisy Chains” Madeline Bassett, betrothed of newt fancier Gussie Fink Nottle. The betrothal is in jeopardy, along with another upcoming union between Stiffy Bing and Stinker Pinker and Bertram has gone to save the day. But Sir Watkyn suspects Bertie of intentions to purloin his newly (but unjustly acquired) antique silver cow creamer. Sir Watkin turns the thumb screws on Bertie to the degree that Bertram reflects:
Life at Totleigh Towers had hardened me, blunting the gentler emotions, and I derived nothing but gratification from the news that Constable Oats had been meeting with accidents. Only one thing could have pleased me more -- if I had been informed that Sir Watkyn Basset had trodden on the soap and come a purler in the bath tub.

And here’s the word.
noun Brit. informal
A headlong fall: the horse went a purler at the last fence.
ORIGIN nid 19th cent: from dialect purl ‘upset, overturn’.

Of course, the image of Sir Watkyn possibly coming a purler is so incredibly delightful because he’s really asked for it and one can’t help but fall into the soup with the possibilities. But purler?
Remind you of something? It’s even spelled like the purl stitch.
I did a web search to try and find more about the word, but the origin is murky at best, it being a colloquial expression. So if anyone has any light to shed here, please come forth. I did find that Aussies consider a purler to be something mighty fine, but that is about all I could really find.
Meanwhile, when I overturn a knit stitch to make a purl, I will be thinking about Sir Watkyn slipping on the soap and falling oh so ingloriously headfirst into his bubble bath in his dressing gown and doing a slippery, blubbery somersault in the drink. And since everything always comes out well in the end of a PG Wodehouse, I can be confident that no injuries will be sustained, only the sublime indignities so justly deserved.

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