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The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday 19 February 2016

Word To Use Today: pelf.

I've been re-reading Nevill Coghill's excellent version of The Canterbury Tales.

For anyone who hasn't yet got round to The Canterbury Tales, they're stories told by pilgrims on the way to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in least that's what the author Geoffrey Chaucer tells us they are, anyway.

Pelf is a word that crops up repeatedly: well, there are a lot of greedy people going to Canterbury (pilgrims going to Canterbury are said to have travelled at a canter (geddit?) though surely they wouldn't be able to tell each other stories if they were cantering. In any case, a lot of the time the roads would surely have been too deep in mud for anything more than a very sticky walk - especially in April, for heaven's sake. I'd suspect a publicity campaign by some mediaeval version of the Canterbury Tourist Board if the word canter hadn't gone and spoiled everything by not being invented until the 1700s).

Anyway, pelf. A nice explosive sort of a word, ideal for being said with a tinge of contempt - and as pelf means money or wealth, especially if dishonestly acquired, this is as it should be.


It's enough to make a small amount of honest poverty almost nearly slightly quite attractive.

Centre: George III, drawn as a paunchy man with pockets bulging with gold coins, receives a wheel-barrow filled with money-bags from William Pitt, whose pockets also overflow with coin. To the left, a quadriplegic veteran begs on the street. To the right, George, Prince of Wales, is depicted dressed in rags.
James Gillray's picture of the National Debt.

But only almost.

Word To Use Today: pelf. This word comes from the Old French pelfre, booty, and is related to the Latin pilāre, to despoil.

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