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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What a Difference a Vowel Makes!

Recently, my wife and I undertook a walk in Lancashire, commencing from the picturesque village of Bolton-by-Bowland. The walk encompassed several very wet areas of pastureland, which were memorable only in so much as the thick, clogging mud deftly stripped our boots of all layers of waxing. It must be years since we could see the original colour of the leather!

However, the most interesting part of the walk was along a green lane, barely touched by the hundred-plus years which have passed since it was originally fashioned. It was tree-lined for its duration and made for a quite fascinating walk. Everything about it exuded a sense of age. All it required was for a little imagination to bring to life the people, carts and animals which had trodden that same path through the passage of time.

However, it was at the end of the green lane when the guide book started to make the walk really interesting:

‘At the end of the lane, debauch onto the B-road which runs at right angles to the lane.’

How extraordinary, I thought! Turning to my wife, I proceeded to repeat the directions and for the next one hundred yards we amused ourselves thinking about just how we were supposed to debauch onto the road. It has to be said that the fantasies ran wild and with liberated abandonment; but what the heck! After all, we were in the Lancashire countryside and, as Yorkshire people would quickly inform one, there are some strange folks in Lancashire!

Anyway, back at the cottage, I proceeded to muse on the author’s unusual choice of word for his directions and wondered whether there was an alternative meaning to the one I was so quick to assume. Out came the dictionary and with it, a revelation.

True enough, the word debauch is defined as follows:

verb: to corrupt morally; noun: a bout of excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.

As I thought, there was no alternative meaning. So I picked up the guide book again, the better to consider this bizarre instruction. That was when I realised that the printed word was actually ‘debouch’; i.e. spelt with an ‘o’ and not an ‘a’. Returning to the dictionary, debouch is defined thus:

verb: emerge from a confined space into a wide, open area.

This, of course, within the context of the walk, makes far greater sense; albeit nowhere near as much fun.

Both words are derived from the French, which is a language I have never got on well with. My amusing mistake with the aforementioned words only served to heighten my conviction that it is a language which has the capacity to get me into a great deal of trouble. Perhaps more than I had ever previously imagined.

Best stick to English, methinks.

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