murgeon

It’s the muddy season, and when you trudge on streets and paths the soles of your shoes and the margins of your pants may not emerge in good condition – may not, in fact, emerge intact. A shoe stuck in the wrong mud may be sucked from your foot, leaving you with naught but sock or stocking, and even that covered in murgeon.

Don’t get the idea that murgeon is a synonym for mud, though. It’s an old word for dirt and dregs and an only slightly newer one for mortar or peaty soil. It likely does come from the same source as mud, as reflected by the alternate form mudgeon (and is a curmudgeon like a cur in mudgeon? Perhaps, but there’s no evidence that that’s the origin).

But there is some sort of phonaesthetic urge in this word. It clings at the margins and thickens in the midgen, if only a smidgen. (Midgen, by the way, is the fat around an animal’s entrails.) It has a murky murmur or a grumbling hum to begin, and then you are mired in a midden with a burgeoning virgin sturgeon surgeon. Which, by the by, is a sequence of words that sounds like someone imitating an American on a military radio, a festival of retroflex and affricate.

Ah, frick it. This word begins and ends with nasals, so it’s not just dirty but soft. But listen carefully and take it to heart – or, I should say, take it as the heart of your two options when your shoe is mired in the murgeon: emergence or emergency.

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