Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Flay the fox

Meaning: Cotgrave gives us a definition and the only etymological speculation I can find online:
"Escorcher le regnard.  To spue, cast, vomit; (especially upon excessive drinking;) either because in spuing one makes a noyse like a Fox that barkes; or (as in Escorcher) because the flaying of so unsavorie a beast will make any man spue." (Current French would be écorcher le renard.)
Usefulness: 3 (depending on your lifestyle. It should be noted that flay the fox sounds suspicious even if you don't know its meaning, so the French version could be useful if you need to describe a particularly good or bad weekend in front of the boss.)

Logofascination: 2 (mainly because it's slightly mysterious slang; I'm not quite sure what it is about old terms for bodily functions, but they're popular.  Jonathon Green has written an almost poetic list of synonyms for vomit, and points out that Australians have originated or are the main users of 38% of these terms. Having recently translated the lyrics of Land Down Under for some Americans, I can't comment.)

In the wild: in a cricket headline; I'm guessing no-one bothered to look up what it actually meant. That, or the person who wrote it really didn't like Leicestershire, the unfortunate Foxes.

Degrees: 1 (Sir Thomas has the first citation for this in the OED, since Cotgrave doesn't use the English phrase in his definition - it was a dictionary of French, after all)

Connections: n/a

Used in: This phrase turns up a few times in G&P, including as one of the games Gargantua plays in 1:XXII (!), but most impressively in the Second Book, VI: How Pantagruel met with a Limousin, who too affectedly did counterfeit the French language. The Limousin attempts to talk like Parisians, which apparently involves a tortuously affected use of Latin and Greek. On discovering that he is not from Paris, Pantagruel says
"Thou flayest the Latin; by St. John, I will make thee flay the fox, for I will now flay thee alive."  
In both French and English the same word is used three times, playing with the slightly varying imagery of each sense.

The Limousin subsequently falls back into his native dialect. Dr Corbett believes that the accent Urquhart translates that dialect into - which is clearly Scottish, rather than an attempt to echo Rabelais' French dialect - is Urquhart's own idiom, and that this, in turn, paves the way for future Scottish writing: "Put it in direct speech."  Whether or not this is a Good Thing, I leave to you. 


  1. I have just put two and two together and realised you are the owner of the blog recently highly recommended by the Inky Fool. *impressed face*

  2. I was tempted to put that under the title: approved by the Inky Fool.

    I started it because I thought having an outlet for Sir Thomas and for all these odd words I was collecting would be helpful, but it's made me even worse.