Brian Moore, last seen on this blog Irishly having tea, uses a couple of interesting dialect words in his 1958 novel The Feast of Lupercal. One of them, codding, is in my idiolect in various forms, including codology; the other, stravaging, I’ve seldom seen and had to look up.
An old sexton, dusting the church in the evening, is obliged to let in two people preparing for a play:
… some people had no consideration, stopping a man in the middle of his work. Every afternoon for the past week they had come stravaging up for their rehearsals, the pair of them. Once, they even came back at night.
Brooding on the interruption, the sexton is annoyed that the church hall is regularly opened for plays, lectures, card games, and ‘all kinds of codology’. Later he wonders, ‘Are they codding me, or what?’ Then two other characters have this exchange:
‘So help me God it was the first time I ever tried.’
‘That’s the best yet. Who do you think you’re codding, Devine?’
‘I’m not codding!’
If you didn’t know the words, you could probably infer their meaning from the context. Codding is joking or fooling. The verb, attested from the 19C, can be used transitively or intransitively: Are you codding me? is Are you joking me?, while I’m only codding is I’m only joking/messing. Beckett, in Waiting for Godot, has Pozzo say, ‘He wants to cod me’.
Cod is also a noun in the senses of fool or joke/nonsense. You can make a cod of someone, as in Seán O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman: ‘If you want to make a cod of anybody, make a cod of somebody else.’ Or you can say that something is a cod: ‘That thing about dying for the faith is all a cod’ —Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes.
The fool sense is older: the OED and Green’s Dictionary of Slang both note its first appearance in the New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (c.1698). In the 18–19C it appears repeatedly in collections of British slang. It may come from English dialect, but its ultimate origin is unknown. Loreto Todd, in Green English, suggests a possible Irish etymon in cadach /ˈkɑd̯əx/, defined by Dineen as ‘humbug’.
Cod in the sense ‘joke, hoax, leg-pull’ is attested from the early 20th century, such as in Joyce’s Portrait: ‘Some fellows had drawn it there for a cod.’ It can also function as an adjective: Bernard Share’s Slanguage quotes a politician on Irish TV news saying: ‘that’s a cod argument: everyone knew what they were voting for’.
Irish English, with its fondness for mixing and messing, attaches the learned suffix –ology to this slang word to produce codology, defined as ‘hoaxing, humbugging’ in the OED, which has an amusing citation from the Daily Express, 1928:
There is in Ireland a science unknown to us in England called Codology… The English is ‘leg-pulling’… When I received an invitation to breakfast at the Dublin Zoo I thought that I could detect the hand of the chief codologist.
Though they’re etymologically unrelated, it’s worth comparing codology with codswallop, one of many florid English words for nonsense. Joyce, inevitably, includes it in Ulysses: ‘The why and the wherefore and all the codology of the business.’
I’d be interested in where people use or hear cod in these senses. It’s part of my active vocabulary, and I hear it regularly enough. As far as I know it’s part of the vernacular all over Ireland, but I’m open to correction. And is it used further afield?
The other word that struck me in Moore’s book is stravaging. When I saw it first I rhymed it with ravaging, but the bare form is actually /strəˈveɪɡ/ ‘struh-VAGUE’ (or in Irish English often /sθrɑˈveːɡ/ ‘sthra-VAGUE’), hence the spellings stravaig, stravague, and stravege. It means ‘to wander about aimlessly; to saunter, to stroll’ (T.P. Dolan, A Dictionary of Hiberno-English).
It can be used transitively: stravaging the road, the streets, the fields, the boreens, or the world. More often it’s intransitive, as in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September: ‘They do be stravaging about always and not contented at all.’ The Dictionary of the Scots Language has lots of citations and related vocabulary.
The pronunciation confirms its derivation from Old French extravaguer, according to Jeremiah Hogan (The English Language in Ireland, 1927), quoted in Dolan. It may be an aphetic form of extravage, a rare verb in English meaning to digress or ramble, either physically or figuratively.
Stravage occurs in Scottish, northern, and Irish English, the OED says, but I don’t think I’ve heard it in the midwest of Ireland. Have you come across it in your own stravaging? No codding, now.