The first of many on similar themes, I hope. Enjoy.)
Neil’s Foibles: No. 1
Long ago, so long ago that most people considered writing to be a tremor in the hands, there was a king called Cuss.
And I hope you don’t find it hard to work out why he was called by that name.
Be that as it may; Cuss came from the family of Truss, the first king of his dynasty. Truss had been a despotic ruler, as evidenced by what our good friend Mr Webster says of his name:
“1 a : to secure tightly : b : to arrange for cooking by binding close the wings or legs.”
But Cuss fancied himself as a progressive king. He preferred crooking his people, rather than cooking them. Indeed, a theory posits that today’s phrase “Cusstoms and Excise” owes part of its derivation to his name.
So, Cuss surrounded himself with advisers. By this, he hoped to gain enough knowledge to defeat neighbouring kings, and so to expand his kingdom. One of these advisers was called Muss.
If you ask why every name in this fable so far ends in “uss,” the answer is: nepotism. Surely, there were families in Cuss’s kingdom called Oof and Ug and Crit and Shap and... But Cuss would only accept advisors from his own family, the Uss.
Now Muss was an intellectual, and a dreamer. He convinced Cuss to go on military expeditions. And, at first, the strategy worked. Cuss quickly subjected the kings of Bog and Brownstuff, and excised their people.
Side note: The Brownstuff people, experts tell us, were a great loss to humanity. For they were, at that time, the best linguists on Earth. They had been the first to invent two syllable words! The Vietnamese, so I’m told, haven’t managed that even to this day. Furthermore, the Brownstuffs had a better (e)scatological understanding than any of their rivals.
But then Cuss, on Muss’s advice, attacked Dong, the king of Bel; generally known to those he had conquered as “the man of iron, who sings.” It was a close battle; but Cuss was defeated. So, Cuss had Muss killed.
On the counterstroke, the enlightened Dong, in contrast to normal practice of the time, ordered killed only those men that had actually fought in the war. And he had his warriors Ding most of the women of Cuss’s tribe, particularly the belles. In less than a year, they would no longer be a nation.
Cuss, now in hiding, wanted to justify himself to his people. And he had heard that there was a new skill called “writing,” which could preserve his sayings for days, weeks or more. The inventor was another family member; his name was Suss. So Cuss called Suss to his hide-out.
Cuss said to Suss, “Write me the story of Muss and his wrongdoings.”
Suss replied (and he sang the reply in his tenor voice, as Cuss permitted for those within his family who could sing well):
“Bring me a leaf large and light green,
Bring me a feather with a point,
Bring me bull’s blood, a big tureen;
Soon, I will write what you appoint.”
It was done. There were many arcane procedures before Suss was ready to write; but eventually, all was finished. Then Suss took the feather in his right hand, dipped its point in the blood, and moved it slowly over the surface of the leaf. The pattern it was tracing became clear.
“Marvellous!” exclaimed Cuss. “But what does it mean?”
Suss cleared his throat. “It says:
There once was a young man called Muss,
Played a trick on the great, good King Cuss.
Muss took us to war;
He was wrong, and we’re sore.
But now he’s up his own Anuss.”
At that moment, Dong entered the room, iron sword in hand and followed by several of Cuss’s personal guards who had defected to Dong.
Time out... Our charter does not allow the depiction of violence or killing. So, we’ll be back after these messages from your local station.
Dong turned to Suss, and asked: “What does your writing really say?”
Suss looked into Dong’s face, and saw a friend. So he replied with the truth. “This is what it says:
Here lies Uss Muss,
Murdered by bad king Cuss;
No fuss, no Muss.”
To which Dong replied, singing loudly in the deep bass which fitted his name so well:
“Dong dinged Cuss’s womenfolk,
And soon there’ll be young Ding Dongs!
I won’t put you under yoke,
As long as you have sing songs!”
Fortunately, Suss was an excellent singer, so he was able to pitch correctly the long, slow words which go with the next part of this beautiful melody.
Dong was very pleased with Suss, and appointed him Vice Regent as well as his Master of Writing. And so, even today, there is still a region of Dong’s former empire which goes by the name of Sussex.