23 January 2016

"The sight never palled..."

A couple months ago I was reading P. D. James' Death of an Expert Witness, when I encountered the phrase "The sight never palled..."

When I read, I always use for a bookmark a strip of firm paper (cut from old Christmas cards) wide enough to write words and notes on.  I have finally gotten around to looking up the phrase, which I couldn't quite parse at the time.  Is it related to "pale?"  What is "to pall?"

A Google search turned up the phrase "the sight never palled" in just a few other works (one by Frederick Forsyth), so I turned to some online etymology and dictionary sources:

As a verb: "become tiresome," 1700, from Middle English pallen "to become faint, fail in strength" (late 14c.), shortened form of appallen "to dismay, fill with horror or disgust."

As a noun: Old English pæll "rich cloth or cloak, purple robe, altar cloth," from Latin pallium "cloak, coverlet, covering," in Tertullian, the garment worn by Christians instead of the Roman toga; related to pallo "robe, cloak," palla "long upper garment of Roman women," perhaps from the root of pellis "skin." Notion of "cloth spread over a coffin" (mid-15c.) led to figurative sense of "dark, gloomy mood" (1742).

Now it's becoming clearer - pallbearers.

The Online Free Dictionary goes into more detail.  In addition to "become tiresome" the word may indicate to "become distasteful or unpleasant" or "to satiate or cloy."

Now, on to the other words.  The novel started with a murder in a "clunch pit."  The image at the top of the post is of the wall of a chapel in Surrey with a checkerboard pattern of clunch and flint.
Clunch is a traditional building material of chalky limestone rock used mainly in eastern England and Normandy. Clunch distinguishes itself from archetypal forms of limestone by being softer in character when cut, such as resembling chalk in lower density, or with minor clay-like components. [although note:] The term has been sometimes used more generically, in other parts of England for any soft and aggregate-based vernacular building stone which has been used as a cheaper, inferior substitute for stronger stone.
One of the characters in the book was wearing a twinset - "a matching set of a cardigan and a (usually) short-sleeved jumper or pullover. The twinset first appeared in the 1940s and is now considered a classic wardrobe staple.
Twinsets have been associated most closely with women's work wardrobes during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in secretarial work or teaching, but were occasionally viewed as too casual for more conservative workplaces where dress suits were preferred. However, their popularity was largely driven by Hollywood stars such as Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn who were frequently seen wearing them on and off the set.
And finally, moquette.
Moquette, derived from the French word for carpet, is a type of woven pile fabric in which cut or uncut threads form a short dense cut or loop pile. As well as giving it a distinctive velvet like feel, the pile construction is particularly durable, and ideally suited to applications such as public transport... Moquette is famous for being used on London Transport's vehicles, particularly the seats of London Underground's Tube trains. During the decades of the many railway companies, there were some ten moquette manufacturers in the UK.
You learn something every day.


  1. Have you seen the BBC version of this book?

    1. Sort of. Years ago I recorded the series on a VHS tape, but missed the 6th episode. This year I started watching, but after a couple episodes decided to switch to the book, because we have most of PD James' books in the house. I do like Roy Marsden's Dagliesh.

  2. I've seen many buildings and walls built from this material in Picardy in northern France but I never heard the word clunch before. If the checkerboard wall pictured above is like what I've seen in France, the dark stones will be flint, or silex as it's called there.

  3. This is very odd. I think it's the third time you've brought up a word I'd been musing about during the day. Today I was recalling the use of the word pall in some sort of verse I had seen in the New Yorker many years ago where the line was "great palls of ire" and the writer wondered if Jerry Lee Lewis had undergone a mondegreen. As in Goodness, Gracious!
    Thank you for clearing up the meaning of pall. Now can you answer my question about Jerry?

    1. I have no idea. When I used to read the New Yorker, it was only for the cartoons.

  4. I first came across the word "Pall" as a kid while reading Ian Fleming's "The Man With the Golden Gun", which was the last thing he ever wrote. In fact, "Pall" was the last word he ever wrote:

    "At the same time, he knew, deep down, that love from Mary Goodnight, or from any other woman, was not enough for him. It would be like taking 'a room with a view.' For James Bond, the same view would always pall."

    That led me straight to the dictionary. Forty years later, the memory is still rattling around in my brain.

  5. Clunch being soft made me think of Maltese limestone which is so soft it can be cut with a handsaw http://tinyurl.com/jpouwul but hardens on exposure to air. Apparently the rock is limestone not 'sandstone' which we all used to call it [it's pale yellow to beige in colour] when we spent a year there as kids. Clunch also hardens when exposed - wikipedia claiming that this is due to water loss. More research required.

  6. Just catching up on some reading here, but I cannot seriously believe you to be unfamiliar with the term "twinset"? Granted, I am older than I thought because it is a familiar term to me and I was born in the early 50's. It was always one of my ambitions as a child to have one of the fancy beaded or embroidered versions worn by the older ladies in my Southern area (Oklahoma). My great aunts wore them to work at the phone company (Ma Bell, of course) and I have pictures of my dad's sister in them. It seems like my mom may have had one, also. I will admit that fashion has always been a passion so maybe I just noticed them more.

    1. Oh, I've seen them - by the hundreds, probably - but never knew there was a specific term for them, other than "sweater" and "blouse."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...