When I was but a young thing, my father used to fulminate about Dr Henry Kissinger. Now, my father was a fully paid up socialist, a man of high principle who practised what he preached and might have been thought to have political differences with HK. That was not, however, the point at issue.
It was hopefully. Grinding his teeth, my father would point out that Hopefully never meant ‘with a bit of luck,’ until Henry Kissinger got hold of it, some time in the seventies. (As in ‘Hopefully discussion on Peace in the Middle East will resume tomorrow.’) It meant with hope in your heart and was a really, really nice word.
So, in memory of my father, I am harrumphing over singer Morrissey making over another excellent word, rodomontade.
I first came across it in Georgette Heyer, years ago. It was up there with enacting a Cheltenham Tragedy and meant, I thought, making a boastful song and dance about not very much, usually with a lot of over-cooked emotion thrown in.
Morrissey, however, interviewed on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, thinks it is a Good Thing. Indeed, he says it is the reason he has a great Latino following in the States because they like the passion and rodomontade in his songs.
Well, maybe I was wrong. Heck (low be it spoken) maybe Georgette Heyer was wrong.
I did a bit of digging.
It’s a word Horace Walpole used in his gossipy letters and Memoirs of George II. George Washington, describing a battle, was said to have written, ‘I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.’ Reported Horace, ‘This rodomontade, reached the ears of George II. “He would not say so,” observed the king, dryly, “if he had been used to hear many.”’
According to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (1755): to rodomontade is ‘To brag thrasonically; to boast like Rodomonte ‘
Thrasonical, thanks to Dr Johnson again, is from Thraso ‘a boaster in old comedy’ Actually Terence’s Eunuchus, according to the notes in Jack Lynch’s wondrous selections from The Great Work. Rodomonte is a boastful Saracen who can’t keep a girlfriend. He pops up in Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso, besieging Paris. Basically, I think we’re talking a Renaissance David Brent. Well, the quality of bragging has declined over the centuries.
So Heyer went with Walpole, Dr Johnson and the Oxford Dictionary. And then the word fell out of favour except with word addicts like me and fellow author Elizabeth Hawksley and my late father.
And then came Morrissey . . .