Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Allay - To Carve a Pheasant

The Common Pheasant
By Edward Lear (1812-1888)

ALLAY

Verb transitive. Long archaic. Also alay. Late 15th century. 
[Origin unknown] 

Carve (a pheasant). 

'No, you philistine! A gentleman does not brutishly carve a pheasant. Rather, one allays it.'

Carving the family roast is a most manly duty, but it's also a minefield in terms of lexicological etiquette (at least in the 16th century or thereabouts), due to the charming and most curious verbs attached to taking the knife to any given creature that's just been served. Rather than carving a hen, for example, one dismembers it. Other favourites include to barb a lobster, to disfigure a peacock and to gobbet a trout.

None of these, however, can compare with the undisputed king of carvery verbs: to splat a pike. I do hope there was a time when a well meaning would-be-gentleman took a mallet to his wife's freshly baked pike and, responding to the horrified gasps of his more learned dinner guests, assured them: 'No, no; I've been doing my research. This is the proper way of serving pike.'

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