Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`WRONG again,' said my husband, plumping down on the kitchen table The Spectator open at the letter from Sir Julian Critchley (18 April) about my speculations on the origin of the word doul, `to skivvy or to boss about'.

I had ventured that an origin in the Greek word doulos 'a slave' was unlikely, given that the context was a letter from a trainee nurse to her father, a farmer in Shropshire. But Shropshire was the key, and while I had been set off on a wild-goose chase through dialect dictionaries, I should have focused on public-school slang - in this case from Shrewsbury school.

Many Old Salopians wrote to tell me of the cry 'Doul!', the equivalent of `Fag!' in other schools. Indeed at Shrewsbury itself scum was used as an alternative. Swot was used for 'angry', while for 'swot' the word was jew-sap. (I don't suppose that is still current.) Twirp was 'cheek' while 'swank' was lift. …

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