Week fifty-four: NISGUL (probability 5745), by David Sutton

No, a NISGUL is not some fell creature from the pages of Tolkien, but is a Midland English dialect word for the smallest and weakest in a brood of chickens. The etymology is not known.

There are other words for the runt of a litter. One is RECKLING, which derives from the Old Norse REKLINGR*, an outcast. Ted Hughes entitled one of his minor collections of poetry RECKLINGS, presumably because they were poems that he didn't feel quite worthy of inclusion in a full status collection.

Then we have TANTONY, as in tantony pig, the smallest pig in a litter. This is adjectival only (no TANTONIES*) and derives from the name Anthony, St Anthony being an Egyptian saint, and patron saint of swineherds. The smallest pig of a litter is also known as a TITMAN (plural TITMEN), and shame on those who thought it meant a male with a predilection for the female breast. Finally we have DILLING, which originally meant the youngest child of a family, but came to mean, once again, the weakest of a litter.

To conclude this dissertation on runts, it is worth noting the Spenserian forms RONT and RONTE, and the still current derived forms RUNTED (but no RUNTING*), RUNTY, RUNTISH and RUNTISHLY.


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