Saturday, October 22, 2005

Weird Words: Namby-pamby

From World Wide Words:
"We owe this word to a very public literary spat between the poets
Alexander Pope and Ambrose Philips at the start of the eighteenth
century. Pope hated Philips because political opponents such as
Joseph Addison praised the latter's rustic verses above his own.

It has to be said, from today's perspective, that Pope had a point.
Philips is now virtually unknown and rarely read, and even his best
known lines, from a poem called A Winter-Piece, describing the
rigours of the Danish winter, which was printed in The Tatler in
1709 ("There solid billows of enormous size, / Alps of green ice,
in wild disorder rise"), are merely competent. What his critics
hated most was a series of dreadful sentimental and sycophantic
poems, written in little short lines, that eulogised the children
of friends. The most-quoted example is the opening of one with the
title of Miss Charlotte Pulteney, in Her Mother's Arms: "Timely
blossom, infant fair, / Fondling of a happy pair, / Every morn and
every night / Their solicitous delight". I can't bear to reproduce
any more; even the Victorians never surpassed it for ickiness.

In 1725, a friend of Pope's named Henry Carey wrote a scabrous
lampoon about these poems in which he invented a mocking nickname,
"Namby-Pamby", based on Philips's given name, and used it in the
title, Namby-Pamby: Or, A Panegyric on the New Versification. An
extract will give you the tone: "Namby-Pamby, pilly-piss, / Rhimy-
pim'd on Missy Miss / Tartaretta Tartaree / From the navel to the
knee; / That her father's gracy grace / Might give him a placy
place." Pope liked the name and included it in the 1733 edition of
The Dunciad, his denunciation of popular authors of the day.

It's odd to think it was largely because of the poetic diatribes
against Philips by Carey and Pope that Philips is remembered today.
But the most significant result was that "namby-pamby" permanently
entered the language."

No comments: