Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Game of Liff: Things to Make and Do



In The Meaning of Liff, John Lloyd and the late Douglas Adams came up with the delightful idea of taking placenames and defining them as though they were ordinary lexical items. The fun of it is that the names and the definitions have to fit, to feel right. For example:

KETTERING (n.)
The marks left on your bottom or thighs after sunbathing on a wickerwork chair.

MARGATE (n.)
A margate is a particular kind of commissionaire who sees you every day and is on cheerful Christian-name terms with you, then one day refuses to let you in because you've forgotten your identify card.


SHENANDOAH
(n.)
The infinite smugness of one who knows they are entitled to a place in a nuclear bunker.


There's also the striking FARDUCKMANTON (n. archaic), or 'An ancient edict, mysteriously omitted from the Doomsday Book, requiring that the feeding of fowl on village ponds should be carried out equitably', and the delightful HARBOTTLE (n.), 'A particular kind of fly which lives inside double glazing.'

The definitions, available online here, are so brilliant because behind their authoritative, pastiche-dictionary tone, you can sense the drunken, studenty, 20-30 something lifestyle the authors were living at the time breaking through. Why else would they need words like AASLEAGH (n.), 'A liqueur made only for drinking at the end of a revoltingly long bottle party when all the drinkable drink has been drunk.' (Reader, I have drunk such. I can assure you that Chinese lychee liqueur is the aasleagh par excellance.) Ditto a HAGNABY (n.), that is, 'Someone who looked a lot more attractive in the disco than they do in your bed the next morning.'

Ranging from the wistful to the risqué via the cod-antiquarian, The Meaning of Liff is ideal reading for the lav. It also provides an excellently useful game for long car journeys, with extra marks available if you can forge a literary quotation showing how the word is used:

Driver: 'Right, I've just seen a sign for the village of Idstone.'
You: 'Ahem. 'IDSTONE (n, medical): A crystalline body formed in the liver traditionally associated with persons of a choleric disposition. ''The Archdeacon is in one of his fiery rages again', said Mrs Willoughton. 'Bless me, but he will surely suffer from a recurrence of the idstones that did so torment him last Shrovetide, the poor soul!'' (Trollope, The Dean's Small Bequest)

So, here are some to try:

Histon
Laxby
Stoke Ferry
Conques
Wickhambreaux

Have a go!

3 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

Conques: an archaic game played in rural East Anglia in which the competitors propel irregular balls about a giant shove-ha'penny board with their noses. "Why th'American publick will ha' none of the ancient game of conques, I cannot fathom; few greater entertanements can have been brought hither from the Mother Country." H. Moreton Frant, Pastimes of European Countryfolk (Boston MA 1896), pp. 118-119.

Anonymous said...

Dan Dennett has a wonderful piece doing this with philosophers' names, e.g. HEIDEGGER an exceedingly strong boring instrument; MERLEAU-PONTY completely upside down and backwards. Rodger Cunningham

Bo said...

Brilliant! Thanks Rodger, that's hysterical. And Tenth - that is exactly perfect.

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