Daily Archives: December 19, 2009

pibgorn

A few years ago, I happened on a comic on the web drawn by Brooke McEldowney, the guy who draws the popular newspaper strip 9 Chickweed Lane. This strip featured a fairy, a pretty chick with insect-type wings and a mottled green body, which just happens to be lithe and frankly pretty hot, like more or less every female McEldowney draws. The strip is sort of still going, though it seems to have transmuted to an illustrated serial novel. Anyway, the fairy’s name, and the name of the strip, is Pibgorn.

It’s really pretty easy to misread that as Pigborn, isn’t it? Weird to suggest that a hot-looking chickie with wings is born of a pig (about as weird as calling a figure skating jump “sow-cow,” I suppose). But of course it’s not suggesting that, since it’s not Pigborn, it’s Pibgorn. It still seems to me to have a sort of “hee-yuk” feel to it, the gorn like “I’ma gorna gitcha” or just somehow corny. The pib puts me in mind of carbonated beverages in cans, partly because it’s just slightly reminiscent of the sound of one opening, partly because Mr. Pibb is the name of a soft drink (Coca-Cola’s Dr. Pepper–style drink), partly because Pabst is the name of a beer. Put pib and gorn together and you get something vaguely reminiscent of popcorn.

But actually it’s a Welsh word. As I mentioned in my tasting of crwth, it’s the name of a musical instrument. What kind of instrument? Well, pib means “pipe” and gorn is corn modified due to its position (Welsh does that a lot) and that’s the Welsh word for “horn.” So pibgorn = pipehorn, except in English morphology we put the words together as hornpipe. But why call a fairy Hornpipe if you can call her Pibgorn?

So does a pibgorn sound like, for instance, a tin whistle, or a flute or piccolo? Nope. It’s not transverse blown and it doesn’t have a fipple. It’s a reed instrument! It has a body that’s somewhat like that of a recorder or other finger-stopped pipe, but it has a horn stuck in each end, point in, so that you blow into one and the sound comes out the other. The reed is inside the blow-in horn, which is smaller. It has – I was about to say a reedy sound, but duh – a sound that will be familiar enough to aficionados of medieval music and fans of groups like Corvus Corax (drums and reed instruments for headbangers), and is a bit like a bagpipe minus the chorus of drones (more than a bit – you can use a pibgorn as the chanter on a set of Welsh pipes). Actually, it will be reasonably familiar to people all over the world, as many cultures have similar instruments.

Does the word sound like the object? Well, the finger-stopping can make the notes sound as though they start and end with [p], [b], and [g], but the reed sound has a higher, buzzier sound to it, almost as though one wanted to make the vowels [i] (“ee”) but say a [v] at the same time. So only kinda sorta, I’d say.

And just in case you like weird plurals – imported forms not like the standard English – this word gives you two great options other than the standard English pibgorns: you can call multiples of this pibgyrn, or you can go all the way and use what the Welsh would: pibau cyrn. (Remember, as an added treat, that c is a [k].) Impress your friends! Intimidate new acquaintances at parties! “Yes, I had two pibau cyrn, but I sold one and bought a crwth.”