Lucy Vickery

Mind your language | 26 April 2018

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In Competition No. 3045 you were invited to provide a poem about euphemisms.

You avoided politics and sex (mostly), preferring instead to focus on the language of dying and the words and expressions that enable us to sidestep the D-word (according to David Crystal, there are more than 1,000 words for death categorised in the Historical Thesaurus). I much admired Alanna Blake’s twist on Keats’s sonnet (‘Much have I dabbled in linguistic lore/ And many inexactitudes have used…’) and Max Ross’s neat acrostic. Hamish Wilson, Max Gutmann, Ann Drysdale and David Silverman also deserve a special mention. The prizewinners printed below earn £30 each. The extra fiver belongs to Bill Greenwell.

‘Fair maiden, may I introduce my fritz,

My percy, and my python, also peg?

It’s from my nether regions’ naughty bits:

My trouser snake, my meat and middle leg.

‘I haven’t got a wrinkle in my winkle,

My johnson, rod and pole, my horse and hose —

My harry likes to have a little tinkle,

Or hang out with my other down-belows.

‘Do talk to him, my cecil and my pecker,

And tell him he’s your favourite tom and dick,

My Black and Decker, oh my Boris Becker —

My well-hung whatsit and my Hampton Wick!’

‘Be candid, sir — to what do you allude?

Why must you all decorum so defy?’

‘Oh miss, I couldn’t. Not that I’m a prude —

It’s simply, to be frank, I’m far too shy.’

Bill Greenwell

Because I would not speak of Death

I thought he would not call —

That hearing words of gentler worth

His interest would pall.

But he popped up and tipped his hat

And said, ‘I’m here at last —

I’d stopped to pay my due respects

To one you’d say had passed.’

Then he spoke of farms that he’d bought —

Of clogs that he’d seen popped —

And I joined in with buckets kicked —

The laughter barely stopped.

We passed the time so carelessly

On those that we had lost —

That I had scarcely time to see —

That over I had crossed.

Paul Carpenter

To make his doting parents proud

Augustus, at a young age, vowed

He would on no account be heard

To say a plain four-letter word:

His derrière was what he’d use

For passing wind or number twos,

Whilst sounding just the opening p

For what he also called a wee.

But fate is curt with any aims

That facts are changed with fancy names

One day Augustus tripped and fell

Arse over tip inside a well;

In mortal peril, but still pukka,

He cried not common ‘Help!’ but ‘Succour!’

In vain, alas. He’d kept his pride

But lost his life. In short, he died.

W.J. Webster

I had to take a business trip; I asked my younger brother

To feed my cat while I was gone, and keep an eye on Mother.

I phoned him from the boarding-house where I was lodged and fed.

‘And how’s my little Fluffikins?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, she’s dead.’

‘What! Fluffikins? My pride and joy? My lovely pussy cat?

My God! You callous brute! How could you break the news like that?’

‘But facts are facts, old chap. It happened. What else could I say?’

‘You could have eked the story out, a little every day.

You might have said, ‘She’s run outside, and jumped up on the roof…

I’ve done my best to coax her down, but she remains aloof…

I’ve offered tempting morsels… now the rain is coming on…

She’s slipped and fallen off…I’m giving mouth to-mouth… she’s gone.’

A gentler way to tell me it had stopped, her little heart.’

‘I take your point, old fellow — rather tactless on my part.’

‘Well, try to be more thoughtful, John,’ I said with stern reproof.

‘Now, how is Mother?’ ‘Ah…’ He cleared his throat. ‘She’s on the roof.’

Sylvia Smith

Death calls them out — so many ways of saying

and softening the bluntness of our end.

He’s ‘met his maker’, ‘sleeping’, ‘now past praying’,

‘pushing up daisies’, ‘met the old man’s friend’.

Or he could be ‘at peace’, he’s ‘breathed his last’.

He’s ‘done for’, ‘fallen from his perch’, ‘at rest’,

‘joined the majority’, he’s ‘snuffed it’, ‘passed’,

‘tuned up his toes’, ‘departed’, ‘with the blessed’.

Poets are just as bad — they temporise,

looking to find new ways to wrap death up.

There’s ‘that good night’, ‘the bourne from which…’ all tries

at sweetening the taste of death’s sour cup.

I wonder why we gulp and catch our breath

at simple words, why literary tricks

are how we fumble the small change of death

while Charon ferries us across the Styx.

D.A. Prince

No. 3048: new word order

You are invited to take an existing word and alter it by a) adding a letter; b) changing a letter; and c) deleting a letter; and to supply definitions for all three new words. Please revert to the original word at each stage of the exercise. Email entries totalling up to 150 words to by midday on 9 May.