[SCA-Dance] Maggot: Put down that silly flute and come get your
tomrvincent at yahoo.com
Wed Sep 6 13:16:35 EDT 2006
Put down that silly flute and come get your grub. Dear Word Detective: In my practice as a musician, playing music from the late Renaissance period, I sometimes come across tunes with titles like, "Dick's Maggot," or "My Lady Winwood's Maggot," etc. My dictionary gives a definition for "maggot" as "an extravagant notion, a whim," as well as the one I am more familiar with, having to do with worms, putrefaction and decay. Now my curiosity has been piqued. How did this word come to have these two so widely different meanings? -- Steven K. Smith, via the internet.
Ah, you're one of those lute and flute guys, right? I used to work with a fellow who moonlighted as a knight at one of those Renaissance Fair deals. You know, the sort of outdoor dinner-theater costume pageants where your waiter addresses you as "M' L ord" or "M' Lady"? Anyway, he didn't last long in our office, probably because he kept referring to the boss as "that fat varlet."
Onward. Somehow I never thought I'd be writing a column about maggots, but here we go. The most common use of "maggot" is, as you note, to mean a worm or grub, usually the larva of a fly. "Maggot," which first appeared around 1398, is thought to have derived from the Middle English word "mathek," which also meant "worm" and may have ultimately been Norse in origin.
The use of "maggot" in the name of musical pieces started in the early 1700's. The rather unlikely coupling of the name for a grub with a light tune meant for dancing is a little less bizarre when we note that, starting in the early 1600's, "maggot" was used figuratively to mean "a fanciful whim or silly idea." The logic behind this sense of "maggot" was, you guessed it, that crazy ideas were jokingly said to be the result of having maggots cavorting in one's cranium, the 17th century equivalent of "bats in the belfry." Thus, a whimsical or "unserious" bit of music was jocularly christened "Dick's Maggot" or whatever.
Speaking of "maggots," incidentally, one early form of the word was "mawk," and "mawkish" originally meant to be disgusted, as if by putrid meat. Only in the 18th century did "mawkish" come to mean "disgustingly oversentimental."
From "The Word Detective" http://www.word-detective.com/041899.html#maggot
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