Friday, 8 November 2013

Brook - Babbling Waters

Stream, Rivulet, Brooklet
A babbling brook
(photo by D.R Davis)

GUEST POSTING BY KATIE DWYER

BROOK

Noun.
[Old English broc, corresponding to Low German & High German words meaning 'marsh, bog', Middle Low German brok,
Middle & modern Dutch brock, Old High German bruoh (German Bruch): of unknown origin.]

A small stream; originally, a torrent.

Also:
babbling brook: see BABBLE verb
brooklet noun a little brook E19

BROOK

Verb trans.
[Old English brucan = Old Frisian bruka, Old Saxon brukan (Dutch bruiken), Old High German bruhhan (German brauchen),
Gothic brukjan, from Germanic base meaning 'to use', from Indo-European (whence Latin frui enjoy).]

1 Enjoy the use of, profit by; possess, hold. archaic excluding Scottish. OE

2 obsolete. Make use of (food); digest. OE-L16

3 Put up with, tolerate; admit of. Usually with negative. Now literary. M16

Also:
brookable adjective (chiefly Scottish) endurable, tolerable (earlier in UNBROOKABLE). E19

An Allegorical Scene by Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915)
The first meaning of this word, a small stream or rivulet, is remarkably unchanged since way back in the day. I love finding words that might have been spoken to someone in Old English. Transported back in time you could easily inquire after the nearest brook, but if you were hoping for a river you’d have to somehow intuit the word ea. The odds are stacked against you coming up with that one in a hurry.

In the modern usage, to play our accustomed word association game, I can’t possibly divide the word brook from babbling. And the image that pops up with it is ladies in long dresses lounging on the banks, chatting away while their gentlemen perform some kind of athletic feat. It’s all quite bucolic and formal, like a Renaissance painting or a rhyming poem in strict meter. “They picnicked beside a babbling brook.” How charming.

In that context, I am particularly delighted by the second contemporary meaning of the word. From rural romance and leisure we shift to the abrupt and aggressive phrase: “I will brook no argument!” This, in turn, conjures some workplace superior throwing his weight around and barking orders at hapless underlings (for those British TV fans, the government ‘enforcer’ Malcolm Tucker of The Thick of It pretty much sums up this phrase).

This second meaning of the word, as “tolerate” or “allow,” is of completely different origins and is, in fact, a different word altogether than the streamlet of the same name. English can be funny that way - our mash up of a language has thrown this identical spelling two separate definitions with unrelated etymology. I love it when this happens: from silvery stream to spit-flinging argument closer, the word brook is a lovely addition to this OED treasure trove.

Do your brooks babble?

Do your rants strike fear into the hearts of your victims?

Or are you a push over, brooking arguments left and right?

Do please babble in the comment box below.

5 comments:

  1. I think my rants strike irritation into the heart of Ed, but he usually brooks this.

    Did I misuse brook? I enjoyed your post but I'm out of my depth.

    -c

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    Replies
    1. Nonsense, C - you seem like a perfectly brookable chap.

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  2. I think it's fascinating how many words we've got for river-like bodies of water, and the latitude there is in their associated words. For example, a brook to me is very small and shallow, something that you could step over in one (or maybe two) strides. A stream is bigger, but still shallow and wouldn't usually be difficult to cross (apart from slippery rocks). A ford can be very wide, but is still shallow and easy to cross. A river, then, can be anything from a serene, waist-high body to the titanic expanse of the Amazon. However, from looking at pictures of rivers, brooks and streams, it seems lots of people don't share my interpretations.

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  3. Off the top of my head I came up with creek, rivulet, spring, and torrent. I'm sure there's more! It is strange to think there's not much gradation to "river." I'd say anything beyond about four feet across could count. But whoever heard of a babbling rivulet?

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  4. Babbling rivulet - a baby metal joint who just won't shut up.

    ReplyDelete