Monday, December 05, 2005

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Swash your buckler!

I clearly remember saying to my college best friend my dislike of certain people walking down SJ Hall inside DLSU.

"They...swashbuckle," I said indignantly.Fri started to laugh. "Swash...buckle? Don't pirates do that?"I started laughing too."You know what I mean," I replied with a grin.

Wherever did the word "swashbuckling" come from? And why is it only used in conjunction with pirates, at least in the popular usage?

Fortunately, an enterprising Michael Quinion, who handles the website www.worldwidewords.org, answers the question that has been foremost on my mind.

He writes in his weekly newsletter, dispatched to at least 21,000 subscribers in 21+ countries (his words, not mine),

"A swashbuckler these days is somebody who engages in romantic and daring piratical adventures with ostentatious flamboyance."

So yes, certain people who walked along SJ did tend to display a flamboyant tendency, despite the lack of 'daring piractical adventures'. And yes, I was soooo bad.

But the bad-ass feeling got a bit deflated when I read more of Quinion's explanation.

"People who have fun with the word, as a writer in the Guardian did on Tuesday, usually talk about some film hero "buckling his swash". A nice try, but there's no verb "buckle" hidden in it - the verbal bit is actually "swash". You should really say the hero "swashes his buckler", but it's not as good a joke."

So yes, I was wrong - they couldn't "swashbuckle", as I had originally thought - they could only swash their bucklers!

And according to Quinion, people did actually do so.

"A member of this breed centuries ago actually did little more than that. A buckler was a type of small shield, held by a handle at the back, whose main purpose was to deflect blows from the sword of one's opponent. Its name is from Old French "(escu) bocler", literally "(a shield) with a boss" (this last word, for a protrusion at the centre of something, is itself from French). Someone who swashes is dashing about violently or lashing out with his sword, often in pretend fights. It seems to have been an echoic term from the sound of swords clashing or banging on shields."

And so, I read on most interestedly in how the term came to be.

"In the sixteenth century 'swashbuckler' was created from these two words to convey the idea of a swaggering, bullying ruffian or undisciplined lout, who made a lot of noise but to little practical purpose. It was most definitely not a compliment to be called one in those days - a writer in 1560 described a man as 'a drunkard, a gambler and a swashbuckler'."

Those days must not have been good, no.

"The romantic image came along several centuries later."

So when someone calls you a swashbuckler, think twice - from foolish fop to romantic hero!

Otherwise, don't let me catch you swaggering when you walk.