Higgledy-Piggledy

The OED defines higgledy-piggledy as “without any order of position or direction; in huddled or jumbled confusion and disorder; with heads and tails in any or every direction. Usually contemptuous.” An early citation, from A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew (1699) makes explicit the reference to “heads and tails”, defining the word as “all together, as Hoggs and Pigges lie”. This pig-based etymology seems to me to be thoroughly erroneous.

My own exhaustive and exhausting research has exhumed from historical obscurity, you know what?, it has been so damnably exhausting that I am going to have to break off here to take a nap. Assume several paragraphs of zzzzzzzzzzs.

That’s better. I am refreshed, and as if the nap were not enough I have also glugged a teaspoon’s-worth of Dr Baxter’s Frenetic Brain Activity Enhancement Cordial. So let us resume. My own exhaustive and exhausting research has exhumed from historical obscurity Monsignor Higledi and Doctor Pigledie, the one a priest and the other a physician. The spellings of their names are in accord with the OED’s earliest citation, from John Florio’s A worlde of wordes, or most copious, and exact dictionarie in Italian and English of 1598.

In 1492, or thereabouts, the monsignor and the doctor were commissioned, by Bruno La Poubelle, to take charge of the Keep Pointy Town Neat And Tidy campaign. This may seem anachronistically modern, in both its intention and its phraseology, but Bruno La Poubelle was ever a figure who transcended the petty bonds of time. Witness, for example, the well-known portrait of him, etched by noted etcher Rex Van Etch, in which he is clearly depicted wearing flying goggles and a Spandau Ballet tee-shirt.

A visionary he may have been, but Bruno La Poubelle made a terrible error of judgement in picking Higledi and Pigledie. The one was a butterfingers and the other was passing strange in a way we would today probably diagnose as clinical insanity. Which was which, monsignor or physician, I have not yet been able to ascertain from the documents. What they do make horribly vivid, however, is that no pair of fifteenth-century Pointy Towners could have been less able to make, let alone keep, things neat and tidy. Wherever they went, in those ancient boulevards, attempting to align things neatly and clear away clutter and chaos, they only made things worse. By the time Bruno La Poubelle put a stop to their activities, all of Pointy Town was a jumble of confusion, with even well-defined pathways crumbled and leading in jagged zigzags towards nothingness, or haystacks from the hinterland to be found plopped upside down in the middle of the town square, or horses behind the counters of pickle shops. There is a measure of truth in the observation that, more than five hundred years later, Pointy Town has never quite recovered. That is why, as soon as you enter the town, even today, you become lost, lost, oh hopelessly lost.

Pigs have nothing to do with it.

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