It’s a bit of a giveaway when someone talks about one of their favorite albums being The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis. First of all, it dates you. 1974 to be precise. And to the math impaired, that’s 36 years ago. And as Pink Floyd sang on The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” Thirty six years, eh?
But putting aside the abject terror that washed over me as I realize how close I am to meeting the “Supernatural Anaesthetist” (side 3, track 4), I recall that this album was the first – and perhaps still the only – hearing of the word slubberdegullion. Now here’s a word that even if you didn’t know what it meant you could work out that it wasn’t very flattering. Why, even WordPress’s spell checker underlines the word in red, it’s poor little database unable to recognize it as a real word.
But real it is, defined as a “slobbering or dirty fellow; a worthless sloven.” Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher use the word in their 1616 Custom of Country where they say, “Yes they are knit; but must this slubberdegullion (h)ave her maiden~head now?” They even define it in there glossary as “a word formed from slubber and gull.”
The OED certainly seems happy with the base being slubber, a verb meaning to stain, smear, daub or soil, which dates from 1539 and appears to derive from Dutch or Low German. In Middle Dutch, overslubberen means to wade through mud, and in Low German, slubbern means to gobble.
There’s also the word slabberdegullion, which appears in 1653 in the phrase “Slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubbardly lowts (Sir Thomas Urqhart, The first (second) book of the works of Mr. Francis Rabelais. Again, there’s no need to know what druggels or lubbardly louts are to know it ain’t good. But here, the word slabber is defined as “To wet or befoul with saliva; to beslaver or beslobber.” Whether the root is slabbering or slobbering, the notion of viscous slime oozes through.
The degullion part is thought, by the OED, to be a fanciful addition, but in 1811, an entry in Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines a slubberdegullion as “a dirty, nasty fellow,” but writes the word as slubber de gullion, suggesting that the derivation of from a place – a slubber who comes from Gullion.
And remember Beaumont and Fletcher’s notion that the word comes from slubber and gull? The word gull as a verb appears in the 16th century with the meaning of guzzling, swallowing, or devouring voraciously. Guzzling and slobbering certainly seem to be made for each other, and tagging the noun-making suffix -ion to slubbergull gets us pretty close to slubberdegullion.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. Meanwhile, as I finish writing this, iPodded and listening to The Lamb, the track Anyway (side 3, track 3) is playing and mocking my sense of mortality;
All the pumping’s nearly over for my sweet heart,
This is the one for me,
Time to meet the chef,
O boy! running man is out of death.
Feel cold and old, it’s getting hard to catch my breath.
‘s back to ash, now, you’ve had your flash boy
The rocks, in time, compress
your blood to oil,
your flesh to coal,
enrich the soil,
not everybody’s goal.
Peter Gabriel: damned slubberdegullion if you ask me.