Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Scumble

Scumble (archaic): 1) a stumble, intentional or otherwise, into scum-filled liquid. 2) a regional pastry briefly unpopular in fourteenth century England.

The word originated in Olde England, circa AD 1153, when residents of Least Plover of the Peckling-Farrows were constantly slipping into the local castle moat – sometimes intentionally – in order to escape stray crossbow bolts and, if near the castle drawbridge, rivers of boiling oil cascading down from the battlements. The moat resembled water to those who thought of water as only partially liquid. Many varieties of castle detritus, from fire-hearth soot to incorrigible pageboys, ended up in the moat, gradually filling it with a reek of wrack and wreckage. Locals dubbed an unfortunate stumble into the seething morass of murky muck, a “scumble,” although the verbose Francophone denizens of the castle referred to it as “ezcumble boucoup je suis merci a la moat.”

Four hundred years later the townspeople scavenged the ruins of the castle for building-stones and rusty maces because no one had the foresight to turn it into a tourist trap. An enterprising baker, William d’Rye, discovered that, as a measure of economy, if he mixed aged silt from the filled-in moat with flour and sawdust sprinkled with cinnamon, he could create a hunger-filling “jumble” which also doubled as cannon fodder when rolled into balls. After ingesting one of d’Rye’s confections and after losing several teeth in the process, town sage Bryan d’Sage-Plantagenet declared the dingy pastry a “scumble.” To be more precise, here are his now legendary words, orated while thrusting into the air a scumble pierced on the tip of his sword: “Fie on thy most wicked new hatch’d calamity! Bare bodkin or scumble? Wouldst thou bear the whips or scorns of time, or perchance the bellyache of scumbles thine?”

Although scumbles never caught on as food, they proved extremely puzzling to archaeologists of the future, who discovered remarkably well preserved specimens holding up the crypts in Least Plover of the Peckling-Farrows’ ancient stone cathedral. Frederichastrausen “Fritz” Noodlegammer, noted authority on antiquarian organic material, precisely carbon dated the petrified scumbles, which after soaking in a fragrant combination brine/lye/acidophilus potion for several days (the scumbles, not Frederichastrausen “Fritz” Noodlegammer himself, who preferred bubble baths) delicately placed a sliver of scumble on his tongue, chewed for half an hour, ruminated for another half an hour and finally declared it “delicious, but needing a soupcons more silt.” Newspapers misprinted “silt” as “salt” and the ancient recipe discovered in the cathedral archives proved a failure in households around the world. However, the revived scumble provided a triumphant boost for the bowling ball industry.

Scumble actually means: 1) softening the colors or outlines of a painting by rubbing or via an opaque film 2) in writing, to blur the outlines.

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