Saturday 10 December 2016

Hirpling On

'As briskly as his bird-like legs allowed, the Reverend Unwin hirpled back to his study...'
 The quotation is from The Winner of Sorrow, a remarkable novel about the poet William Cowper, which I'm reading on the recommendation of Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence. Written by the Irish poet Brian Lynch, it's a wonderful read, and I'll no doubt be writing more about it when I've reached the end. But to the hirple...
 This verb means 'to walk with a limp, to hobble'. It's a fine word, one that I'd never come across before. Its origins are in Old Norse, passing into Scots and Northern English usage, and apparently best preserved in Ulster Scots. None of which fits the milieu of The Winner of Sorrow, but who's complaining? It's always a pleasure to come across a new and expressive word.
 Here it is cleverly used (and cleverly rhymed) to describe the gait of a cricket in an Ulster-Scots poem, Address to a Cricket by Sarah Leech:

'You cheer my heart wi' hamely strain,
or shrill toned chirple,
as cozie roun' the warm hearth stane,
you nightly hirple.'


  1. Scots/Ulster Scots is right I think: the word comes up several times in Burns -- there's a line about a hare hirpling over the furrows -- and also Heaney's Beowulf: "He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped with it".

  2. Lovely stuff - a pleasure to come across words like this, words that work but somehow get lost...