Monday, 3 May 2010

Ding donge

J. produced some new soap the other day, a brand called Donge. I didn't see the pack, so I didn't know where it came from. Living in deepest European Union, the possibilities are legion.

If it was French, it would be pronounced 'dawn-zhuh'. If it was German it would be 'donger' to rhyme with 'longer'. Spanish? 'don-hey'. Italian? 'don-jay'.

And English? 'donj' , 'donjy', 'dongy' or just 'dong'?

'Dong?' J. said. 'That's a colloquial American word for--'

But that's neither here nor there.

'However you pronounce it,' I said, 'I've seen that word before.'

And so I had. With me it was the work of a moment to speed downstairs - this conversation having taken place in the upstairs bathroom - to the bookshelves.

Eng. Lit.

Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales

The Nun's Priest's Tale, ll 190 ff

(A man dreams that his friend is about to be murdered and is calling for help. He wakes, dismisses his friend's SOS as a nightmare, goes back to sleep. It happens again. The third time he dreams his friend says:

"...I am now slawe;
Bihold my blody woundes, depe and wyde!
Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde
And at the west gate of the toun ," quod he,
"A carte ful of DONG ther shaltow see,
In which my body is hid ful prively..."

(GLOSSARY: slawe = slain, killed: Arys = arise, get up: quod = quoth, said: DONG = dung, manure: shaltow = shalt thou, shall you: prively = secretly.)

In the morning the man does as his friend's ghost has told him.

And forth he goth...
Unto the west gate of the toun, and fond
A DONG-carte, as it was to DONGE lond

(GLOSSARY: goth = goes: fond = found: DONGE = to spread manure: lond = land.)

And guess what? He calls on what passes for the constabulary in 14th century England, the people rally round, upset the cart-

And in the middel of the DONG they founde
The dede man, that mordred was al newe.

(GLOSSARY: mordred = murdered: newe = newly, freshly.)

Completely vindicated, satisfied that in Chaucer's day few soap-boilers would have called their product DONGE, I went back upstairs and completed my toilet.

* * *

No donge here, but compost instead. I'm now digging in all last year's compost. I see the compost box is home to a lively population of worms, grubs and creepy-crawlies, which is as it should be, but goodness knows what these 1½-inch maggots are:

Now and again I come to curious lumps about the size of a haggis. I poke and prod: what are these things that haven't broken down into a rich grainy compost and which even the most omnivorous larvae eschew?

I remember: last September Patroclus and Mr Blue Cat and the Blue Kitten came to stay. The Blue Kitten's disposable nappies, supposedly entirely composed of natural fibres, went into the compost. Bio-degradable?

After all this I washed my hands. With DONGE, of course.

(GLOSSARY for the benefit of the legions of US Chaucerians who come here : nappies = diapers)

No comments: