Buggre Alle This for a Larke…
January 27, 2008 § 1 Comment
Shall be the title of my first album, should I magically become a musician.
Now reading: Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
About halfway through this book, and the title of this post is the line that made me laugh out loud on a flight from NYC in a plane full of grumpy New Yorkers. It’s a transcription of the beginning of a fake verse inserted as Ezekiel 48:5 by a disgruntled typesetter for “the London publishing firm Bilton and Scaggs” in 1651–thereafter known as the “Buggre Alle This Bible.” (It’s funny because it’s true: bibliographers and collectors do tend to refer to weird variants like this by whatever glaring error identifies the variant.)
What made me laugh out loud, I think, was the combination of archaic spelling and type (Gaiman and Pratchett insert the “f” for “s” in the appropriate places) with the anonymous typesetter’s old-timey insults. What is it about 17th-century spelling that makes the funny funnier? For some reason “Buggre Alle this” strikes me as much funnier than “Bugger all this.” Somehow it helps me imagine this young man longing to be outdoors, putting together his type in a fit of extended pique–then to imagine the look on Master Bilton’s face when confronted by the first angry buyer. It doesn’t hurt, I suppose, to imagine a dry British voice in your head while you’re reading, as I find myself doing throughout this book. I’ve seen Gaiman read in person and I find his voice creeping in during the funnier bits.