As I watched the retreating form of Wen Raey, off to roll her eyes at another unsuspecting paronomast, Jess came up holding a parfait glass of something that looked creamy. She looked off towards Wen. “What’s all the hubbub, bub?” (Jess is a good one for Bugs Bunny quotes.)

Hurly-burly might be a better term,” I said, “for our new persona Fwendy-Wendy, who does not dilly-dally.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Jess said. “Raey is a Dutch name, and hurly-burly comes from a Scottish play by an Englishman.”

“Jess!” I said, genuinely surprised. “You didn’t know Shakespeare didn’t invent it? It’s attested from nearly a century before him. Reduplication formed on hurling, I believe.”

“One can’t know everything,” she said, and ate a spoon of her dessert. “There would be nothing left to learn, and one would have to sit and weep, like Alexander when he ran out of worlds to conquer. But anyway, at this party there seems not to be the kind of mêlée one calls hurly-burly; I like the luck of the Irish: hubbub may come from a Celtic hue and cry, but now it simply means the roar of a confused multitude.”

“That makes me think of the Banff Hot Springs,” I said. “I remember the general hum and rumble of conversation – it was one of the noteworthy features to me when I went there regularly as a child.”

“And was there a bubbling hub?”

“Of water? No, nothing like the thalassotherapy pool in the spa on the Queen Mary 2, or even a simple whirlpool tub.”

“But hubbub does have a good onomatopoeic effect, doesn’t it? One imagines that the Irish who used Ub! Ub! Ubub! as an expression of contempt were conscious of it as imitative of babbling, just as the Greeks formed barbaroi, for ‘barbarian,’ by imitation of the speech of foreigners: ‘barbarbarbar…'”

“I think of it,” I said, “as the sound of a battle in Ubu Roi. Jarry’s great vulgarian, leading the bumbling lubs with his toilet brush…”

Jess started to snicker. “Now you’ve got me thinking of them chanting that ‘Hug-a-mug-a Maxwell House’ ad from how long ago was that? ‘Hug-a-mug-a, hugamug-a…'”

“Well,” I said, “that would be hugger-mugger, now wouldn’t it?”

“Only if you mean the muddling sense of it. Mainly it means ‘in secrecy.’ Nothing much secret about a hubbub. Or a huddle of muggles!” She started to bubble with giggles. “Maybe hubbub is the mechanic who adjusts the Hubble!”

“Maybe it’s really Wen Raey’s redneck cousin, backwards of course: Bubbuh.” I chortled a bit; Jess was exceptionally snickerish, in spite of the absence of a beverage.

Or what was that she was eating? I began to suspect it was spiked. She caught my glance at it. “You’d lub this grub,” she said, ostending it. “I’ve had two or so.”

“What is it?”

She gave me a don’t-you-know look. “Don’t be silly, bub!” She gave the parfait glass as good a lick as she could and delivered the punch line: “It’s syllabub!”

Thanks to Jens Wiechers for suggesting hubbub.

One response to “hubbub

  1. Pingback: syne « Sesquiotica

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