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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Thing To Indulge In Today: persiflage.

The Word Den is largely an exercise in persiflage, and for all us seekers after knowledge the obvious question is, of course, who?

Who was this Percy, whose frivolous banter and inoffensive teasing caused a whole style of speech and writing to be so-named?

Was he one of the Dukes of Northumberland (who are all called Percy)? Surely not, for if baronets are known for being untrustworthy then dukes are a positive byword for grimness (together with an unhealthy fascination with wood worm and spreadsheets).

So in that case could the Percy in question be that utter fop the Scarlet Pimpernel, aka Sir Percy Blakeney? He's much more likely, light comedy and a bit of joshing being just what you need when you're trying to distract the sans-culottes from the beautiful marchioness hiding under your load of firewood; but sadly Sir Percy Blakeney didn't come to the public's attention until 1905, when persiflage was well-established throughout the English-speaking world.

Famous Percys being, unfortunately, rather thin on the ground, the only other one who springs to mind is Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Very Romantic Poet. 

Well, he's known for many playful tricks, including the desertion of his wife and the abduction of more than one very young lady - how their families must have laughed! - but Percy Shelley for some reason decided to work his stratagems by stealth, and not by fast-talking gaiety and charm.

So where does that leave us? 

Well, with a page of persiflage, that's what. Frivolity and teasing.

Oh, but I do wish there'd been a real Percy, though.

Thing To Indulge In Today: persiflage. This word comes from the French persifler, to tease, from per, which is an intensive, plus siffler to whistle, from the Latin sībilāre.

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