Week twenty-six: WARISON (probability 2149), by David Sutton

The primary meaning of WARISON is wealth, goods, and as such it is a variant of GARRISON, which used to have the same meaning: the root sense is of something guarded, cf. French guerir, to defend, preserve.

Sir Walter Scott got the wrong idea about it, probably from misunderstanding a line in the old ballad 'The Battle of Otterburn' — 'Minstrels, play up for your warison' — and thought it meant a battle-cry, or note of assault.

Another example of poets getting things wrong is SLUGHORN, a variant of SLOGAN, which Chatterton, and then Browning after him, took to be a kind of trumpet, whereas this time the word does actually mean a battle-cry, from the Gaelic sluagh host + gairm cry, shout. This explains Browning's line in his poem 'Childe Roland': 'Dauntless the slughorn to my lips I set'.

Browning made another rather more embarrassing mistake when for some reason he formed the idea that TWAT, a vulgar term for the female genitalia, meant 'part of a nun's habit', and duly used it as such in his poem 'Pippa Passes', a favourite set-piece of his at the recitations he would give to Victorian ladies at their afternoon tea-parties. Such was the awe the great man was held in that nobody ever dared to put him right. Ah, those were the days when people had a proper respect for their poets...


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