Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 1) >> Annual Address Before the South Caroliniana Society, 3 April 1943 >> Page 32

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Page 32

Speech | 2007
Transcription Simms liked to speak of the "absquatulation" instead of the
defaulting of a bank official or the "lachesse" rather than the
delinquency of a publisher. One word that stumped us for a
year or more was one that looked like u-s-q-u-e-b-a-u-g-h. We
were convinced that Simms' handwriting had played us a scurvy
trick this time. The library officials at Furman struggled over
it with us, with magnifying glasses and dictionaries of foreign
words in several languages. Finally, the answer came from
four different quarters almost at once. My sister, reading Don
Byrne's Marco Polo, came upon a description of a wine shop
in Venice which catered to the tastes of sailors from all na-
tions. One potexit drink they kept on hand for the lusty Scots
was named usquebaugh. Next, we read a wild and wooly Texan
pioneer story in the Saturday Evening Post in which the hero
manufactured his own Irish brew, wisque borsagh. Third, a
story in Red Book told of one of the Dukes of Ormand going
from Ireland to the court of Henry VIII fortified with a species
of dynamite known as arsguebaught. Henry VIII liked it so
well that they took a supply along with them when they crossed
the Channel to visit the Field of the Cloth of Gold near the
old town of Guines, in France. Lastly, we were humiliated by
an eminent philologist of the University of Chicago on a visit
to Greenville, who, upon hearing of our discussion, said in effect
"Aw shucks ! Why didn't you look in Webster in the first place ?
It's nothing but the old word for whiskey." Sure enough, there
it was, usquebaugh, just as we had read it a year or so before,
and doubted our own eyes.
Simms' affection for coined words is a very definite character-
istic. "I am in a state of betweenity," he writes to Hayne, or
perhaps, in the coinage of Lamb, "I am very beddish", or "very
unwellish", or "rather unwell today." He liked to speak of
his column in the Charleston papers as his letterary report'.
Or, to Hammond : "Please scissorize all that concerns me in the
Augusta papers and send it on."
Simms liked to poke fun at his intimates by giving a wicked
twist to old phrases. For example, in inviting northern friends
to spend Christmas at the plantation, he says: "Come and set
the Yule Log. There shall be cakes and ale, and ginger shall
be hot in the mouth-in spite of your virtue." Or perhaps he
liked to jibe at himself : "My wife has just added another girl
to my stock, or to my flock." Or, "My wife has added a boy
to my collection." Many of his expressions sound very current
in our ears : "The top of the morning to you", or, "knock that
theory into a cocked hat", or, in advising a friend during Re-
construction "Keep your powder dry."
A very interesting phrase of Simms' love of words is the
nicety and aptness of his use of metaphor and simile. We find
him complaining to an intimate of the briefness of his letter :