Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Name of the Day: “Henery”

Back in 1965, when I still listened to the blandly homogenized pop medium known as Top 40 radio, a song soared onto the charts  that didn’t fit the rock & roll mold at all, and seemed to come from another world:  “I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am”.  It was harmless, charming, catchy.   Once ever you heard it, you could never forget it:

    I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am,
    'Enery the Eighth I am, I am!
    I got married to the widow next door,
    She's been married seven times before
    And every one was an 'Enery
    She wouldn't have a Willie nor a Sam
    I'm her eighth old man named 'Enery
    'Enery the Eighth, I am!

Wikipedia (that fount of all that is good and true) provides the surprising background.  It is a British music-hall song dating back to as early as 1910 -- few indeed were the ditties of such venerable vintage that made it onto the pop playlists.  And yet -- scarcely to be credited:

In 1965, it became the fastest-selling song in history to that point when it was revived by Herman's Hermits.


What revived that memory  was a passage in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), referring to a simple workman of rural southwest England:

He always signed his name "Henery"—strenuously insisting upon that spelling, and if any passing schoolmaster ventured to remark that the second "e" was superfluous and old-fashioned, he received the reply that "H-e-n-e-r-y" was the name he was christened and the name he would stick to—in the tone of one to whom orthographical differences were matters which had a great deal to do with personal character. 

As kids, exposed to the ditty, we made no philological hypotheses concerning the trisyllabic name -- just something silly, metri causâ, we supposed.  But Hardy’s witness demonstrates that the pronunciation is time-honored among the English popular classes.

The medial schwa is not etymological, but the product of popular epenthesis (or anaptyxis, if you insist), like the pronunciation “ellum” for elm, or the by-form alarum from alarm.

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