Monday, May 6, 2013


Meaning: Sir Thomas provides the unusually coy "wipe-breech" as a synonym in the chapter title, but later on translates Rabelais' simple torchecul as a list: "arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches."  Cotgrave tells us that it is a "wispe for the tayle".

Usefulness: 2 (Though I suspect Rabelais and Sir Thomas would give a fancy word for toilet paper a 1.)

Logofascination: 1 (This many posts in, and words still surprise me: torche-, a French word meaning wipe, is from the Latin torqueo - twist, wind, bend, torment.  Torqueo is at the root of thwart, torch, torque, tort, torture and nasturtium, nose-twisting flowers that they are.  Also, of course, the -tort word family: contort, distort, extort, intort, obtort, retort.  I suspect this ended up in torchecul as per Cotgrave's 'wispe' - a twist of something with which to wipe the tail.)

In the wild: It's not in the OED, which I think is a bit unfair. Someone has helpfully posted a photo of the relevant page of an illuminated Rabelais here.

Degrees: 1

Connections: n/a

Which is used in: Book the First (Gargantua), XIII: How Gargantua's wonderful understanding became known to his father Grangousier, by the invention of a torchecul or wipebreech. As you might expect, torchecul is used a few times, but this is my favourite line:
Now, I prithee, go on in this torcheculative, or wipe-bummatory discourse, and by my beard I swear, for one puncheon, thou shalt have threescore pipes, I mean of the good Breton wine, not that which grows in Britain, but in the good country of Verron.
Afterwards I wiped my bum, said Gargantua, with a kerchief, with a pillow, with a pantoufle, with a pouch, with a pannier, but that was a wicked and unpleasant torchecul; then with a hat.
Wipe-bummatory is rather appealing - it's (un)suprisingly fun to say, and I like to imagine Sir Thomas telling people he was up to the wipe-bummatory chapter.

You can read the full chapter online - for all the wipe-bummatory discourse, it has some lovely lists, and includes Sir Thomas' attempt to translate Rabelais' scatological poems.

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