The Devil’s Corbyn of Hell

A General Election post, featuring Edgar Allan Poe, a manual for medieval female anchorites, the RSPB, Le Corbusier, Magpie Corvid, a corvine conspiracy, and Tolkien’s Nazgûl.

Nine days to go, and it is not that I want to die, but rather that I often feel as if I am already lying out on the moor, while the crows hop around me, competing to peck out my eyes and tongue. By now you have probably also been canvassed by a death-bird:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Of all this murder of crows – May, Corbyn, Farronage and Sturmon – one appears sincere. After all, he hasn’t concealed his true name:

corbin, n.
Forms: Also ME corbun, corboun.
Etymology: < Old French corbin, derivative of corb, corp, corf < Latin corvus raven: compare Latin corvīnus adjective.
A raven.

Via UMich’s Middle English Dictionary we can reconstruct the OED’s first find, a nifty nugget of alliteration in the C13th Ancrene Riwle:

Þe bacbitere cheoweð monnes flesch & bekeð wið his blake bile o cwike charoines, ase þe þet is þes deofles corbin of helle


The backbiter chews human flesh and beaks with his black bill on quick [i.e. living] carrion, as he that is the devil’s corbin of hell. 1

In terms of the political taxonomy devised by my good friend Linus von Pelt, with the assistance of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Corbyn is a carrion crow:

The all-black carrion crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds. It is often quite fearless, although it can be wary of man. They are fairly solitary, usually found alone or in pairs… Carrion crows will come to gardens for food and although often cautious initially, they soon learn when it is safe, and will return repeatedly to take advantage of whatever is on offer.

Among his friends: Le Corbusier (Astragal over at The Architects’ Journal: Corbyn and Corb: the coincidences pile up), and the New Statesman‘s favourite dominatrix, Magpie Corvid:

It is not the end to privatisation and cuts, or the strengthening of public services, that sets my heart on fire for Corbyn, and that has raised crow after crow, cheering, to its feet. It is all of those policies transformed into a clear plan of action: the promise of Labour’s demise, and its rebirth into a truly participatory body that can redefine parliamentary politics.

These are tempestuous times, and I fear that people will take me for an owl. Here‘s a piece of nocturnal nature writing from Emmy Thomee in peaceful old 1982:

At about 4:45 a.m., one owl flew silently across the road into the woods. Then the other. A crow awoke. Quickly rallying, it roused and summoned others of its kind to join the eternal corvine conspiracy to make day uncomfortable for the owls. The group moved slowly through the trees, each movement of the owls noted with an outburst of increasing volume, sounding like an unruly crowd at a football game-until the enemy and noisy pursuers were far in the distance.

The morning brightened into familiarity, dispelling most-but not all-of the totally unfamiliar world we had been living beside. Only the crows served as a talisman to the dreamers, to prove that the dream was real.

Nevermore: 2


  1. Larry Swain wonders whether this isn’t Tolkien’s prototype for the Witch-King of Angmar and attendant Nazgûl.
  2. OK, just one more time:

Trump takes up organ-grinding

“It’s out of tune, it’s who we are”

Back off, Don-iers, the Official Donald Trump Jam with the Freedom Girls is a mad masterpiece:

Is the faux naïf musical tone spoilt or enhanced by the moment of comparative harmonic complexity towards the end of each verse? Is the ditto non-native lexical stress (“enemies, of freedom“) the first step in reaching out to furriners after wrapping up the Republican nomination? Is the backing ©asio or a simplification of Blondie’s Heart of Glass riff aimed at Generation X:

? Is Pensacola, Fl., a wayward etymological child of Peniscola, Valencia? Why did international gaydom choose Sitges over Peniscola? Did the Nazis capture the Von Trapps? Would Barcelona’s nationalists already be shucking their oyster-world if their PR had been along these lines? Re my tenners at Ladbrokes: the GOP nomination is safe and Don-for-Pres is looking good, but will I lose my punt on Sadiq if Trump loses his way and comes roaring in in the London mayoral race as well? What is it with blond floppy hair? When, oh when, will this Friday end?

The Singing Organ-Grinder’s top 10 pig songs

Sincerity meets spam.

Pork brings out the best in people (even in the Philippines), and I’m farming out most of this to Rol@My Top Ten. Normally I find his selections absolutely fascinating but alarmingly modern, but you have to admit the genius of Green Jelly’s “Three little pigs”:

Check out the rest. I’d get rid of the Beatles (who made this one mistake), Elvis Costello and Morrissey (who can’t do anything right, ever). In their place I’d like to suggest a couple of things I’ve sung at least once:

  • Even the wicked wolf agrees that “Los tres cochinitos,” the three little piggies, from the Mexican series Cri-Cri is adorable (starts ca. 01:50):

  • “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.” It’s called a hog here, which is a misprint. Etymology:

    p – 1 = o
    i – 1 = h
    g – 1 = f

    So, “I’ll hof, and I’ll pof, and I’ll blow your house down.” Pof comes from qog, a misspelling of cog in the sense of a small Scots barrel used for milking ewes and cows, as in “Gin ye, fan the cow flings, the cog cast awa’” from “The rock and the wee pickle tow,” a Scots spinning song by Alexander Ross, schoolmaster at Lochlee.

    Why a wolf would be using such devices and secret code is unclear.

  • A number whose name I dare not print, which I wrote in Low Saxon dialect with KV at a time when rural isolation and suicide was in the news. It’s about a farmer who eschews towns and travels for the company of his own fat pig. Despite painting a positive picture of home entertainment -Britain is not the only nation of animal-lovers- it was banned by The Man.
  • An instrumental number, based on a transcription of the panpipe playing of an itinerant French castrator and tinker (you used roughly the same tools to redo pans as to undo pigs) in rural Galicia in the early 20th century. It will sound familiar (though infinitely more sophisticated) to anyone who has heard the pipes of the few remaining ambulant knife-grinders in Barcelona and other Spanish cities, their wheel driven by a belt run off their moped.
  • “I love little pussy” is not obviously about a pig, but it reminds me of the time in Hungary when I saw a large sow corner and eat a cat. I have often told my good friend Victor Orbán that he should welcome Muslims because they will drive down labour costs without increasing pork prices, but he will keep going on about Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683. We Ulstermen would never hold a grudge like that.

  • Here, here, here is pig and pork,” a vicious late 17th century Irish sectarian ballad, doesn’t really count, but who’s counting? Everyone knows Swift, but there’s lots of other fine and/or lively post-Restoration Dublin- and Belfast-based satire. One extraordinary example I’ve found is particularly apposite to my trade – a parody of an anti-revolutionary libel trial, of which more anon. Here’s a straightforward vocal recording, but my version is closer to some vile porcine Detroit hiphop I found in a remainder bin in a Paris record store, once upon a time.

More animal songs here.

El santo mocaro

Snot-nosed pseudo-saints in a Lingua Franca song by Juan del Encina.

Where circumstance permits I’ve been singing my version of Juan del Encina‘s Villançico contrahaziendo a los mocaros que sienpre van ynportunando a los peregrinos con demandas (1520s?), and I’m gradually trying to figure out what it all means. Who, for example, are the mocaros, always plaguing pilgrims with their pleas?

Alan D. Corré and Roberto Rossetti in their translation (the site is indispensable for anyone at all interested in Lingua Franca) suggest that they are ruffians, but I’ve yet to meet a word like mocaro in LF or in related language which is used in that way.

Quickly discarding frivolous thoughts of authentic street Arabs in the then great port of Mocha in the Yemen, and of Egyptian mountains, I imagined snot-nosed urchins: the Latin for nasal slime mūcus/muccus gives Spanish moco, snot, whence mocoso, etc..

Virtually all mocaro ghits are for some Adolf Hipster fashion brand, but Frederick Starr‘s Catalogue of a collection of objects illustrating the folklore of Mexico (1899) contains a short list of forfeits used in children’s games, one of which is santo mocaro, which he translates as nose blowing.

With an alternative spelling this saint turns up in Quevedo’s Entremés de los refranes del viejo celoso (ca. 1620). Towards the end the elderly cuckold and proverb-abuser pleads for mercy, invoking several pseudo-saints, and among them the one who lived on in industrial Mexico:

Misericordia, señor,
yo lo doy por recibido.
Valedme agora, valedme,
¡oh santos deste distrito!
¡Oh señor santo Mocarro!
¡Oh señor Santiliprisco!
¡Señor santo de Pajares,
de todos tan conocido,
libradme de Pero Grullo!

St Snotnose & Co (St Nobody, St. Falsehood, St. Onion, St. Slap-arse, St. Flea, St. Hairy, St. Have-not, St. Punch-up, St. Prison…) also turn up in late medieval French and Dutch parodic hagiographies, and then there’s Chaucer’s “Seynt Idiot, lord of thise foles alle.”

In the 15th century mock sermon, Dit es van den scijtstoel, the macaronic preacher, curiously enthroned on a shite-stool, invokes Snottolf (snot-wolf?), a specialist in post-evacuation dingleberry management, who has experimented with tools such as mussel shells and hay.

In the Brueghel-v/d Heyden print St Snotneus is a quack who for the appropriate fee will relieve all kei (=millstone or other boulder) sufferers (i.e. lunatics; you can also hang millstones round your neck):

Compt alle keyaerts die met der keyen zijt ghequelt,
‘Tsy rijck ofte arm, niemant wtghesteken,
Ick Meester Snottolf sal u helpen om ghelt
[Ziet] mijn Conste aen desen keyaert is ghebleken.

So yes, I think Encina’s mocaros are santos mocaros, in-your-face money-for-miracle-workers.

Now sit back and watch the price of fish.

San Longino, ibero

Una explicación racionalista de la Resurrección y Ascensión de Nuestro Señor.

Estoy cocinando con órganos y me molesta toda clase de duda. Por ejemplo:

  • Etimología convencional del hincha de A.S. Roma que hirió a Nuestro Señor: Longinus < lonche (λόγχη), lanza.
  • Alternativa: Longinus < longus, largo.
  • Hipótesis organillera: Longinus < longaniza. Pero ¿por qué buscar embutido entre las costillas de un profeta del amor terrenal?


Un Longinos hambriento con su lanza le saca al Señor un trocito de pulmón para hacerse una longaniza, y Jesús como consecuencia de una falta de oxígeno se desmaya. José de Arimatea quita el cuerpo de la cruz, lo envuelve en un trapo limpio y lo entierra en un sepulcro excavado en la roca. Jesús más tarde se despierta, le falta aire, y se pone a caminar en busca de ayuda. Encuentra Tomás el Incrédulo, llamado así porque es hereje en general y científico entre semana. Jesús dice: Alarga acá tu mano, y métela en mi costado, y Tomás dice: ¡Señor mío y Dios mío! ¡Puedo arreglarlo con una prótesis! Mete una bolsa hecha de intestino de oveja en la herida, y la llena con hidrógeno para que se adapte al hueco. Jesús flota hacia arriba hasta llegar al cielo, donde dice: Querido papá, por favor no me mandes otra vez a España, van de católicos pero son unos fucking caníbales.

Longaniza se puede hacer con pulmón cocido, y Escenas cántabras (apuntes del natural) (1928) nos da un tipo de longaniza que suena un poco a la palabra inglesa lung, pulmón:

– Esti siñor quieri cumer. ¿Tú sabis si hay algo qui dali?…
– Responda a su papá, bella joven. De mí no hagan caso sus miradas.
– Miri padri qui nu lo sé. Pa mí qui no.
– Les advierto a ustedes que conmigo no necesitan molestarse mucho, con lo aquí alcanzado a ver hay para salir del paso: jamón, huevos, embutidos, latas de conservas, etc. etc.
– Ay, siñor, mucho lo siento, pero esos jamonis y lunganizas aposolos aquí un hombri di Salamanca pa entregásilo a la siñora médica.

No sé si me gusta comer pulmón, pero el Capitán Fideos está de acuerdo que menos asco da que lengua.