Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Brum's the Word

A recent dust-up on Twitter was occasioned by a posting—from “brumplum”—criticizing the popular British actor Stephen Fry.  The nature of the criticism was minor, apparently nothing more than calling Fry’s own posts “boring,” but Fry has nearly a million admiring Twitter followers, many of whom erupted in anger at the audacity displayed by “brumplum.” Brumplum was identified in the press only as someone named Richard, from the English city of Birmingham (pronounced BURM-ing-um.) 

Birmingham is the origin of the “brum” part of the Twitter moniker (you may speculate about why Richard regards himself as a plum).  Brum is a slang contraction of Brummagem, which was a dialectical name for Birmingham, probably derived from the city’s Saxon name of Bromwicham. Etymologists believe the name Birmingham derives from Beorma inga's ham ("homestead of the people of Beorma,” who was reputedly a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon king.)  Beorma is not known to have visited Alabama, but no doubt would be pleased to know his name is also memorialized there.

Natives of the English Birmingham (and students and alumni of its university) are sometimes referred to (affectionately or contemptuously, as the case may be) as “Brummies.”  The word brummagem, sad to say, also means “counterfeit or tawdry,” the result of a spate of bogus coins produced there in the 17th-century and also of the city’s reputation in the 19th century for manufacturing cheap jewelry, toys, and souvenirs.

Full disclosure: The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is a Brummie, having spent two years enrolled as a graduate flâneur at the University.  His dissertation consisted of this cryptic comment:
        There’s a limerick that’s very risqué
        That’s been around for many a day
            About two girls from Birmingham
            And the Bishop confirming ‘em—
        But that’s all that I’m going to say.

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