My morning name of 6/5, which came to me, not in my head on awakening (the way morning names usually do), but on Facebook upon my firing up my computer, from John Wells, who was exclaiming with surprised delight: “I’m now a panjandrum“.

JW had just come across a 1/29/19 piece on Tony Thorne’s language and innovation site, “Mockney, Estuary — and the Queen’s English”, in which Thorne referred to “the Linguistics and Phonetics department at UCL [University College London] under the panjandrum of phonology Professor John Wells”.

(#1) Not JW, but the Great Panjandrum of Randolph Caldecott’s 1885 picture book, on its cover (on the book, see below)

AZ > JW on FB: This has to be announced with a great panjandrumroll! Huzzahs for achieving panjandrumery! (Lovely word, in any case — apparently invented in the 18th century. Alas, for some people apparently connoting (empty) self-importance — not like you at all, John — in addition to denoting expertise and influence — that’s right on the mark.)

Background: John Wells. JW (born 3/11/39) regularly twits me (born 9/9/40) about being my senior. My position on the matter is that at this stage in our lives the difference amounts to no more than a rounding error, so we’re now effectively the same age.

An age that’s something of an achievement (in a pandemic time) and, in my case, a matter of incredible good luck: my man Jacques and I were among the small band of last men standing after AIDS wiped out almost all of our generation of American gay men (and a substantial portion of the generation after ours). And then Jacques died, from other causes entirely. Though John suffered a stroke some years back, he continues an active life, together with his partner of many years, Gabriel Parsons.

Characteristic photos of John have him lecturing — he is a great teacher — but I’ve chosen a picture of him and Gabriel on one of their frequent travels (most recently, they did a river cruise on the Rhine — Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, / Daß ich so traurig bin), not smiling, but surrounded by fabulous plants (in the Singapore National Orchid Garden, 11/2/16):


JW on this blog:

— in my 8/10/21 posting “The khan con”, in a section on “lexical sets, accents, and vowels”, background from Wikipedia on the Standard Lexical Sets for English introduced by JW in Accents of English (1982)

— in my 2/7/22 posting “Anagramming coreligionists”, more personal comments:

John Wells and I share membership in several socioculturally significant groups: we are (at least) both (cis) men, both Anglophones, both (some brand of) white person of European ancestry, both academic linguists, both homosexual / gay / queer, and both in our 80s (so of the generation in between the generation that fought WWII and the boomers, and also of the plague generation, the generation of gay men that was devastated by AIDS). I can, of course, refer to these shared memberships by naming the specific groups we both belong to, as I have done in the previous sentence — though I note that these delineations tend to be complex and wordy.

For many purposes, it would be sufficient to note that we share a category, rather than going into the details of stipulating what that category is. For one category — religion — there is such a term: coreligionist (also spelled co-religionist). [but for most relevant categories, there is no widely used lexical item]

panjandra. The short story from NOAD:

noun panjandrum: a person who has or claims to have a great deal of authority or influence: the greatest scientific panjandrum of the 19th century | [as title]:  the Great Panjandrum of this exercise is a management consultant. ORIGIN late 19th century: from Grand Panjandrum, an invented phrase in a nonsense verse

The longer, much weirder, story from OED3 (March 2005)

1. (A mock title for) a mysterious (frequently imaginary) personage of great power or authority; a pompous or pretentious official; a self-important person in authority. Also Grand PanjandrumGreat Panjandrum.

Etymology: Apparently < pan- comb. form + an arbitrary second element. … The word is supposed to have been coined in 1754 or 1755 as part of a farrago of nonsense composed by Samuel Foote (1720–77), actor and dramatist, to test the memory of his fellow actor Charles Macklin, who had asserted that he could repeat anything after hearing it once. In the first published version the relevant passage (attributed to Foote) reads as follows:

1825 M[aria] Edgeworth Harry & Lucy Concl. II. 153 And there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the Grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top.

The composition of the passage has also been attributed to the actor James Quin (1693–1766): see Notes & Queries (1850) 16 Nov. 405.

[from the cites:] 1938 C[yril] Connolly Enemies of Promise vii. 57 The panjandrums of the nineteenth century .. give way to the realists. 1955 A[ldous] Huxley Let. 11 May (1969) 743 I am under the protective wing of a bright young researcher..and his wife. They .. introduce me to the Grand Panjandrums, who mainly speak with german accents.

The Caldecott book. Cover up there in #1. From Wikipedia:

The Great Panjandrum Himself is one of sixteen picture books created by the illustrator Randolph Caldecott. The book was published in 1885 by Frederick Warne & Co. It was the last book illustrated by Caldecott, who died the following year.

The text for the book, well known during Caldecott’s time, was written and published in 1775 by Samuel Foote.

(#3) The complete Foote text (supposed by some to have been an important influence on Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear) — but where, oh where, is the little round button at top of John Wells? (see #2, where he is visibly buttonless)

Another Panjandrum. From Wikipedia:

(#4) Close-up of the Panjandrum Machine (from Wikipedia)

Panjandrum, also known as The Great Panjandrum, was a massive, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden cart designed by the British military during World War II. It was one of a number of highly experimental projects, including Hajile and the Hedgehog, that were developed by the Admiralty’s Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD) in the final years of the war. The Panjandrum was never used in battle.

In case you wondered, JW lacks not only that little round button, but also the explosive-triggered rockets; a pensive man is he, of philosophical joys, who likes to meditate, contemplate, far from the rocket’s mad inhuman noise.

2 Responses to “Panjandrumery”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    Hello, Henry Higgins!

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Easter egg cheers! Sweetly, Henry Higgins bears a glancing relationship to Henry Sweet, who’s the intellectual father of modern phonetics (and phoneticians like John Wells — and Peter Ladefoged and …).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: