Than which

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A couple of weeks ago, the Schott's Vocab column in the NYT featured a request for "Family Phrases". This reminded me of a work that I recently read about (along with many other interesting things) in Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber's The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science.   It's a shame that Prof. Merton is not alive to see that Contributions towards a glossary of the Glynne language, by a student", privately printed in 1851, is now available on line (along with many other interesting things) through Google Books.  

Its (unspecified) author was George William Lyttelton, whose Wikipedia entry describes his career as follows:

In January 1846 he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in the Tory administration of Sir Robert Peel, a post he held until the government fell in June of the same year. Lyttelton was also Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire from 1839 to 1876 and the first President of Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1854. Moreover, he founded the region of Canterbury, New Zealand with Anglican colonists. The port of Canterbury bears his name. He was president of the British Chess Association at the time of the Staunton-Morphy controversy in 1858.

Lord Lyttelton's researches into the "Glynne language" were founded on his marriage to Mary Glynne, whose sister Catherine married William Gladstone. (Both marriages took place at the same place and time — July 25, 1839, at Hawarden Castle, Flintshire.)

The Glossary of the Glynne language seems mainly to have been a way for Lyttelton to tease his wife and her sister, as in these entries:

Than Which Perhaps the strongest instance of ellipsis to be found in this highly elliptical language. Its use is confined to Lady Lyttelton, and is by her meant to indicate an extreme opinion of some sort or other, about something she has just said: but all the particulars of that opinion are left to conjecture, together with the grammatical complement of the phrase. As thus, 'I have been half an hour teaching Albert to write: than which.' It is evident that to assimilate this to any recognized form of expression, some no less enormous ellipse must be imagined than this: 'than which (nothing more bothering and tedious can easily be undertaken.')

Beyond This term should be analyzed in conjunction with 'Than which' (see above:) and may be said to be the more ordinary Glynnese expression for the sentiment which Lady Lyttelton alone renders by the latter phrase. It is a more simple form of ellipse, being merely that of belief,' 'description,' or some such word. Mrs. Gladstone might say 'Really, teaching Stephy is beyond.'

The Use of the Verb to Be In a peculiar and very emphatic ellipse, should have been noted above, in near connection with the phrases 'than which' and 'beyond,' to which it much resembles. It particularly belongs to Lady Lyttelton, who uses it for the same sort of purpose as the above phrase 'than which;' as thus. On entering into a room at Hagley or at Hawards during one of those great confluences of families which occur among the Glynnese, and finding 17 children there under the age of 12, and consequently all inkstands, books, carpets, furniture and ornaments in intimate intermixture and in every form of fracture and confusion, the experienced 'Mother of Millions' will find relief in the aphorism 'Well, children are.' It is evident that there is some notable incompleteness in this saying to be supplied, as 'something too intolerable for the power of the English language to express.' But it is always uttered as if it was not only a complete, but a singularly full and perfect statement, to which nothing could possibly be added.

[Mary Glynne, though not literally the mother of millions, did have eight sons and four daughters.]

Audience The form in which this is used is always that of a given person being audience; often with an epithet, as being great audience, immense audience, &c. It is curious, and characteristic, that unless the Author has failed in his observation, this phrase is almost always used, not, as in English commonly, of many persons, but of one. But this circumstance is but one out of several, in which it is distorted from the English model. Thus, a person does not give audience, but is audience. Nor has it any particular reference to the sense of hearing, according both to etymology and usage; though it may incluce it. It is a term of somewhat narrow application, and seems susceptible of tolerably exact definition. It means to be a patient, sympathizing, adulating, condescending, and probably half-sincere admirer of something of which the owner is considerably proud, and in praise of which he rather prosily holds forth. Again, it is to be carefully observed that the person is audience, not to the other person who speaks, nor necessarily to any sound at all, but simply to the thing admired. So the Author heard Lady Lyttelton say 'I went to * * * * * and was audience to his poney:' not at all meaning that the poney made any noises whatever, but that she professed due admiration for him and blandly listened to commendation of him on the part of his reverend owner.

The Use, and the Correlative Non-Use, of the Particle as are also to be specified among the grammatical freaks of the above-specified lady: but they are confined to her epistolary efforts. It is simply that while she will always write, 'Will you be so kind to let me have nine yards of lace,' &c. she will carefully compensate for this anomalous omission by the no less irregular insertion, 'Lady L. begs Mr. Wigblock to have the goodness as to send her six small combs,' &c.

Other Glynnes are given some attention as well, as in these two entries:

The Termination in Ums A rude and inartificial idiom, for which the authority is the Dean of Windsor. The affix ums is tagged on to some substantive or adjective, and the ugly compound is then dragged into some sort of meaning by the aid of the auixiliary verb to have, and the definite article the. Thus, to have the churchums (a phrase signally and almost exclusively applicable to Sir S. Glynne) means to be much occupied in, and specially to devote much of one's conversation to, the subject of churches.

[The "Dean of Windsor" in question was George Neville Grenville, Dean of Windsor 1827-1854, who was some sort of Glynne relative.]

Wizzy The leading authority for this word is Sir Stephen Glynne. It is palpably derived the English word wizen: but the sense is somewhat different.

It means thin, sallow, older-looking than natural, sharp-featured, shrunk.

Lyttelton's Wikipedia entry says tersely that he "committed suicide at the age of 59 by throwing himself down the stairs at Hagley Hall".


  1. Aaron Davies said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

    i find myself quite enamored of "inartificial". i presume this is the antonym of the original "artificial" (="artful")?

    i detect the hand of the 1911 britannica in that pithy obit.

  2. Mike Scanlon said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

    I think I now have "the glynneums"

  3. dw said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

    The portrait of Lyttleton included on his Wikipedia page is really quite something

  4. Peter Metcalfe said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 12:15 am

    Living in Christchurch, the city just over the hills from Lyttelton, the post was quite informative as to its non-linguistic detail. Lyttelton was intended to be the main city of Canterbury but then they found that it was too much trouble to fill in the harbour so they built the city of Christchurch on the other side. The main problem was that most of the esteemed streetnames intended for the victorian utopia (ie London, Exeter, Winchester, Canterbury) had already been used up for Lyttelton so for the new settlement they were forced to scrounge names from Ireland (Cashel, Kilmore, Tuam and St Armagh).

    And throwing himself down the stairs in Hagley Hall? Oh dear. Hagley Park is the main park in Christchurch.

  5. dw said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 1:00 am

    According to this book, Gladstone himself subscribed to the printing of the "Glossary", and praised it as exhibiting "the easy hand and precision of a consummate scholar".

  6. Lance said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    Interestingly, this biography has him flinging himself over a balustrade on the 21st. (I wish it went into more detail about the claim that he "was not the first of his kin to be described as suffering from gloomy delusions and unsatisfying wild, pompous fancies". He sounds quite amusing from his anthropological study of the Glynnese, though certainly his portrait doesn't suggest a particularly light-hearted demeanor.)

    I also think "have the X-ums" is a terrific coinage. I'm only sorry that it seems to work best with one syllable words, like churchums (or perhaps words with final stress?). I'd love to be able to dismiss a linguistic theory by saying something like "This is clearly a semantic issue, in spite of the claims of So-and-so, who apparently has the syntaxums", but that sounds a little odd.

  7. carla said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    I have heard a similar use of "beyond" – most recently in Sarah Silverman's very funny video last fall exhorting Jewish grandmothers to vote for Barack Obama. One of the reasons she gave to support him is that "His brisket is beyond."

    My ear is not now sure whether this usage is particularly idiosyncratic to American Jews, though it certainly "felt" right in place in Sarah Silverman's usage of it in the video.

  8. Sili said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    Well, he does look like the sorta person who would throw himself down stairs.

    Unlike Primo Levi.

  9. Ray Girvan said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

    Fuller account here in Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttelton's Daughters (Sheila Fletcher, 2001). Seems he had a worsening depressive illness, and the family had brought in a minder from an asylum (under the fiction of "valet") – but he did a runner in the middle of being shaved, and took a dive down the stairwell.

  10. Ray Girvan said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

    Lance: I wish it went into more detail about the claim that…

    Those phrases come from Sarah Spencer Lady Lyttelton's account

    tottering along on his melancholy evening walk … talking loud to himself, afraid of all human beings, and occupied only by gloomy delusions, unsatisfying wild pompous fancies.

    of the Second Baron, George Fulke Lyttelton, 1763-1828, who died insane (see The Barons Lyttelton of Frankley and Correspondence of Sarah Spencer, lady Lyttelton, 1787-1870).

  11. Sven Holmström said,

    May 12, 2009 @ 3:42 am


    "Fuller account here in Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttelton's Daughters (Sheila Fletcher, 2001)."

    In the same passage it says that the doctor called for after his successful suicide attempt was no other than Sir William Gull of Jack the Ripper (and oher) fame.

  12. Ken Brown said,

    May 12, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    If wikipedia is to be believed, these are the great-great-grandparents of Humphrey Lyttleton!

    "And so, as the grubby raincoat of time opens to reveal the upright Member of Parliament, and the categorical denial of destiny is swiftly followed by the resignation letter of fate…"

  13. Per Engzell said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    Interestingly, his namesake the 1st Lord Lyttleton seems to have been the (equally unspecified) author of the similarly titled The Court-Secret: A melancholy truth, now first translated from the original Arabic by an adept in the oriental tongues, a popular Montesquieu-style orientalized satire printed in 1741, and then reprinted in 1742 and 1743 (see Beasley, et al "Romance and the 'New' Novels of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett", Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 16 (3), pp. 437-50, and here).

  14. Ray Girvan said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

    Ken Brown said

    Curse you, Ken Brown! For three days my attention has been distracted on and off by trying to think of a pertinent and suitably filthy "lovely Samantha" joke.

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