Are All Sophisticates Phonies?

“I know there’s something else on your mind,” I told de Sica, rattling the ice in my drink with the straw, “but before we get off the topic of portmanteau words, I want to clear something up.”


“It’s this: although Lewis Carroll gave them that name in the 19th century, these word mash-ups, which linguists call blends, go way back to the beginnings of English. But since Old English is as impenetrable as a poison ivy forest, let me give you an example from Middle English.”


“There was a word drubly, meaning ‘turbid’ and ‘troubled.’ Here’s what the OED Online says about its etymology:

apparently a blend of Middle English trobly , troubly adj. from French, and Old English dróf , dróflic (Middle English *drov(e)ly ) turbid, disturbed.

“Look at this example they cite,” I said, turning the screen of my phone toward him. “It’s from a book, a travel guide, apparently, published in 1425, called Mandeville’s Travels:

If þe water be clere‥þe bawme es gude, and, if it be thikk and drubly, it es sophisticate.

Bawme is now spelled b-a-l-m. Sophisticate meant ‘counterfeit’ or ‘adulterated, mixed with some inferior substance,’ in other words, phony as a ‘you have won’ pop-up window.”

“I’ve met a few people like that,” said de Sica.

I pried the lid off my drink. It looked a bit drubly. I pushed it aside.

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One Response to Are All Sophisticates Phonies?

  1. Pingback: Bourgeois Fair | Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper

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