It was a right jolly night at Domus Logogustationis, the clubhouse of the Order of Logogustation. Our local branch had prevailed against a hostile acquisition bid on the building that would have driven us into the street. Instead, it was our celebrations that drove us into the street, mucking up the traffic: we no longer needed to camp out watching for padlocks on the doors; the siege had been lifted. Needless to say, we were not behaving like boy scouts – rather more boorishly. Long words (excellent words!) were falling like snow as we careered tantivy into the laneway. Elisa Lively twirled along the sidewalk singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” until overtaken by hypoxemia.
“What are you doing?” a passer-by asked.
“Mafficking,” Philippe Entrecote replied.
Ross Ewage, the noted vulgarian, leaned over. “As in ‘Keep yorficking hands off mafficking building!'”
“As Baden-Powell might have said, yes,” Philippe said, nodding smoothly.
The passer-by moved on in that quick-stepping way people do when they conclude they have been talking to a dangerously crazy person. Ross turned to Philippe. “Baden-Powell? As in the founder of the Boy Scouts?”
“Yes, it was he who held Mafeking during the siege. Two hundred seventeen days, hemmed in by the Boers. He used cute subterfuges such as having his men place fake land mines while the Boers were watching them – and stepping and ducking to avoid imaginary barbed wire. The Boer War was basically a white-against-white war, but Baden-Powell put three hundred native Africans on the perimeter with guns.”
“To get shot first, no doubt,” Ross said, as a cava cork traced gravity’s rainbow past his ear. (“Sorry!” shouted Maury.)
“Rather. He also put together a cadet corps of adolescent boys. That helped inspire the Scouts, which he formed seven years later when he was back in England.”
“So mafficking really wasn’t just partying but mayhem – a battle! The Siege of Mafeking!”
“Actually, the verb maffick was backformed on the basis of the celebrations when the siege was lifted, May 17, 1900. Naturally the British citizens in Mafeking were very happy to see the departing backsides of their Boerish opponents. The celebration spread rather far, certainly across South Africa to Cape Town, and, I believe, even to London. It was a major victory in the war. Waggish journalists reporting the celebrations spoke of ‘maffickers, mafficking as hard as they could maffick.'”
“And the neighbours,” Ross said, “were probably saying ‘Those rotten ma-fickers.'” He might have pronounced it slightly differently, come to think of it.
Elisa spun to a stop and grasped Philippe’s shoulder for stability. “Language!” she shouted, but it wasn’t clear if she was chastising Ross or simply exulting.
“We’re talking of mafficking,” Ross said.
“Change the affix and make it mafficks!” Elisa shouted. “Let us maffick in the traffic!” she sang to the tune of “Roll Me Over in the Clover.”
“Read the f‘s as long s‘s,” Maury said, leaning over, “and you have Massic, an ancient Italian wine.”
“If you could degeminate and change it to g, it would be magick,” Ross said.
“It would,” Philippe said, “not least because f to g is not a known transformation.”
“It’s a typo!” Elisa shouted into his ear. She grabbed the cava from Maury. “You need some more of this!”
“Make like Tantivy Mucker-Maffick,” Maury said. “To quote Thomas Pynchon: ‘Tantivy’s been drunk in many a place, From here to the Uttermost Isle, And if he should refuse any chance at the booze, May I die with an hoary-eyed smile!'”
“But,” Ross half-shouted, “what the f*** does Mafeking mean? I mean the place name! Where they had the siege!”
“It’s actually Setswana,” Philippe said. “It’s originally, and now again, Mafikeng, and it means ‘place of stones.'”
At this Elisa and Maury burst into song, the Rovers hit from the early ’80s: “Oh, why don’t we all just get stoned… Get drunk and sing beer-drinking songs…” They continued up the street in raucous jubilation. We all mafficked so hard we might have been mistaken for sports fans, except we were in Toronto and nonetheless had something to celebrate.