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Organised vilification, the old-fashioned way

1 Apr 10 | Re: Dictionary find

Thanks to the electronic Concise Oxford’s delightful habit of opening at a different random entry each time you use it, I’ve just come across the word skimmington. It means “a procession intended to ridicule and make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband”.

There’s no indication in the entry of when skimmingtons used to be popular. I imagine it was the mediaeval times, and that the unfortunate nags and lotharios of the age were placed on a donkey-drawn cart and marched through the streets surrounded by prancing jesters, frantic mummers, and dozens-strong kazoo-and-saucepan bands. Meanwhile, malformed townspeople lined the grimy streets, jeering and throwing now-forgotten species of vegetable at the targets of community ire. I expect there were proud regional variations: perhaps Suffolk skimmingtons were preceeded by a town crier with a rudimentary gong, while Lancashire skimmingtons involved the wearing of elaborate multicoloured hats.

This is all speculation, but what a world to live in!

I can only imagine the glee of a certain type of person when a new shrew or Bluebeard was found and a skimmington proposed. I mean the type of person who posesses that peculiar blend of community spirit and sour vindictiveness that makes modern-day people ideally suited to writing columns in the Mail and Express. And in fact, we do still have skimmingtons after a fashion - nationwide ones, where the hapless victims are paraded through the tabloids and hounded out of their positions as team captains. Plus ca change, vraiment, mes amis.

Imagine the delight of the Lee-Potters of the fourteenth century if they had known that one day civilisation would advance to the point where the whole nation, or the world, could take part in an enormous skimmington at once, mercilessly vilifying the same shamefaced hate figure at once. And so it has come to pass.

Posted by TRINCULO at 18:33

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