In History, What is, Words

We all have our own aspirations in life but it is a universal comfort to the human race that, even on the dreariest of days, the low, grey clouds can be pierced at any moment but that shaft of golden sunlight that is the discovery of something moderately interesting. And so it happened that, during my minimal research for the word of last week, succinct – ‘What, you researched that!’ – I discovered something that made my right eyebrow raise slightly and the corners of my mouth turn down to form a De Niro style crescent of approbation.

And this was it. The word succinct comes from the Latin verb ‘succingere’, which means to tuck up your toga in readiness for action, usually battle or mowing the lawn. What you do is gather all the low hanging material that you don’t want to get trampled underfoot or caught in the blades and tuck it in tightly around your waist. You might refer to it as ‘girding your loins’, gird being an Old English word meaning to bind or hold up something with a belt or other flexible material. And so we have our first ever Word of the Week that actually rhymes with word.

Penny for your thoughts…

Actually, no. Let it go.

It’s a rare little word, gird, as evidenced by the fact that your autocorrect will tediously try to change it to girl or grid. Autocorrect don’t like rare ties. See? In fact, we only ever seem to use the verb ‘to gird’ in conjunction with the word ‘loins’. More common are the nouns that gird has spawned – girder (a beam that holds up the floor joists) and girdle (a belt, sash or, in modern usage, an elasticated corset).

Hands up if you remember this slogan?

‘My girdle is killing me!’

What do you mean, no! Back in the 70s we used to say it all the time. People said it on TV. I’m sure Eric Morecambe was always saying it. ‘Ooh, my girdle’s killing me!’ Or was that Kenneth Williams? Probably both. I can’t remember why we said it, it was just one of those advertising catchphrases that made you smile and stuck in the mind, back in the days when adverts stuck in the mind rather than just sticking up your browser when you’re searching for the origin of the phrase ‘My girdle is killing me’.

Eventually, after ignoring various ads for things I’ve recently bought already, I came across another interesting and somewhat sad discovery. By the way, I’d love to know how many people, having recently bought a lawnmower, buy another one on the strength of an online ad. I’m no Richard Branson but I’m pretty confident that the target market for new lawnmower sales doesn’t include ‘people who recently bought a new lawnmower’.

But I digress. ‘My girdle is killing me’ was a line from a Playtex ad of the 1960s, featuring model Marilyn Bradley. I couldn’t find the specific ad amid the many vintage girdle commercials on Youtube but I did find a touching blog from Marilyn Bradley’s daughter, Camilla, a fashion designer in the USA. Marilyn Bradley was killed, along with her two young sons, by a drunk driver in 1978 when Camilla was only two. And so that slogan – the one that that gave us all so much amusement in the 70s – became one woman’s only recollection of hearing her mother’s voice.


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