Spatchcockery Afoot

I was faffing about in the curtilage feeling a bit chuffed that I had just come up with such a great idea for dinner: I would spatchcock a chook.

Say what? If I could get away with it, this is how I would speak. But adding just one more eccentricity to my already long list might prove to be the tipping point for those I hold near and dear. So I refrain….for the most part.

I have a mad passion for the words and phrases lost to time or used only by those “other” English-speakers…you know who I mean, the original ones across the pond and their cousins in Australia and New Zealand. Here a sampling of just a few deliciously obscure terms:

“The pink limit!” A friend and I were “simul-reading” a D. E. Stevenson novel and both of us, avid word-lovers, pounced on this obsolete British phrase eagerly. She researched it and found it to mean the equivalent of something like “the last straw.”  “What do you mean, you’re out of gin? That is just the pink limit!”

“Dash it” or “Dash it to bits”. Thanks this time to one of my favorite authors, P. G. Wodehouse. How I adore him. That will be a subject of another post….I digress….his wonderful Bertie uses “Dash it” with charming regularity. It conveys just the perfect dollop of civilized annoyance. “Why didn’t I buy those awesome iced tea glasses? Dash it!!”

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Closely related is “dashed.” It’s a dashed lovely thing and although they have nearly identical meanings, it’s infinitely more posh than “wicked.”

Curtilage   Alexander McCall Smith, another great fan of obscure English, wrote a charming Facebook post a few years ago wherein he extolled the virtues of the almost extinct “curtilage.” The curtilage (which autocorrect annoyingly insists on converting to “cartilage,) is the private garden area, usually walled or fenced in, just outside the manse. The curtilage is where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy from all those pesky estate employees. I expect to hear it used someday on “Downton Abbey.”


“Faffing about”. Introduced to me by a friend from New Zealand, it means “dilly-dallying”, procrastinating, or idly wasting time. I rather like the sound of “happily faffing about the house”, don’t you? As a matter of fact, I see nothing wrong with developing “faffing about” into an art form.

“Chuffed” Well, this one is fun. It means pleased with oneself. I’m feeling rather chuffed you’ve read this far!

“Fantoosh” Another Alexander McCall Smith favorite, this old Scottish word means garish, ostentatious, over-dressed. “His second wife dresses rather fantoosh, wouldn’t you say?”

“Snaffled”  Take something quickly and without permission – slightly less than outright robbery….one would “snaffle” a swig of port from the decanter when Jeeves isn’t looking.

And “Spatchcock.” This word I heard for the first time in the illustrious Wall St. Journal of all places. How obscure it is, I have no idea but it has a certain ring to it. It is a specific method of flattening a chicken (or chook as the Aussies say.) Makes for more even cooking. We tried it recently:


Poor little chook. As if appearing in such an undignified pose weren’t enough, now you are about to be spatchcocked!

Take your preferably already postmortem chicken and place on clean dishtowel, backbone up, breasts down.


With a pair of kitchen shears (or whatever scissors you can find) locate the backbone and start cutting away until the bird is officially spineless.


Now for the fun part! Flip her over and with your palm, give a good whack or two until you feel it flatten out as much as reasonable.


Et Voila! A spatchcocked chicken:


Now give it a good rub with whatever olive oil-based marinade you like, generously salt and pepper, and place on a medium-hot grill until the bird is done to your liking.


We slathered her up with olive oil and red pepper flakes.


Made for the tenderest and most evenly cooked chicken ever.

Back to words for a second. It is a favorite thing of mine when odd little words or expressions are shared in a relationship – that secret language that sort of binds you to each other.

What favorite funny words or expressions do you use? Surely I can’t be alone in this quirk, can I?

Chuffed that you visited,


About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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43 Responses to Spatchcockery Afoot

  1. Pat S. says:

    Loved your entry and the delicious looking chook, too. Two of my favorite courses in college were linguistic based and I have been fascinated ever since with word and phrase origins, so your entertaining post was a delight for me to read. Keep passing on the gems!


  2. Sandra says:

    Here’s my offering Barbara: “Gongoozler” Someone who idles around the canals or locks, simply watching the activities of boaters as they cruise by. The number of gongoozlers will vary in inverse proportion to the efficiency of the boater’s performance. So when you’re making a real “dog’s dinner” of throwing ropes, controlling your boat, or opening lock gates, you can guarantee that half the population of the nearest town will have turned up to spend their afternoon making pithy observations at the crew’s expense. But as my mother would say, “I’ll be jiggered if I’ll let it get me down.” 🙂 Off to spatchcock something for our evening meal now…


    • Brilliant, Sandra! I absolutely love “gongoozler” and know exactly what you mean. Back when we had a power boat and had to dock the thing fooling around with lines and trying to ease into the slip, gongoozlers gave us performance anxiety. We didn’t know they were gongoozlers but we do now! “Dog’s dinner” is being permanently added to my repertoire. Thank you!


  3. nrhatch says:

    Dash it! Wonderful post, Barbara. Not in the least Fantoosh. As a vegetarian, I’ll not add Spatchcock to my vocabulary, but I’m Chuffed to see your love of words.

    Have you been Faffing about in the dictionary to find fun words? Here, I’ll have a quick Snaffle myself to see what’s what.


  4. I love this post! I once worked with a bunch of expats and one of them was very fond of “god’s teeth!” as in “god’s teeth woman, what are you doing?!!”


  5. I stick a couple of skewers through the bird to keep it flat under the grill…

    And yes, language enchants and delights me…..I remember my paternal grandmother enquiring as to what Godless stramash (uproar and disturbance) we children had been up to which would no doubt leave her black affronted (ashamed) before the Minister…and a threat to flype us (turn us inside out as of a sock) should the offence be repeated.

    Dog’s dinner was in current use by my maternal grandmother…altered to pigs breakfast by her husband from Australia….and her neighbour – a lady of salty tongue, would refer to those who could not settle down as being in and out like a dog at a fair – or, if roused, like a fart in a colander.

    I still use chuffed as part of everyday vocabulary….refer to someone making a mess of something as making a pig’s ear of it, while saying of someone putting their heart into something that they are giving it laldy…

    I think in the West country the locals refer to tourists as grockles…which always sounds like something you might find on a rock, but isn’t!


    • Marvelous, Helen. How do I choose a favorite? Grockles is right up there but Godless stramash – said with emphasis, of course – is edging it out, I think. But then’s there’s pig’s ear…..


  6. Sue Mayo says:

    I loved seeing the demonstration of spatchcocked. I saw my Dad do that to a chicken many times in his butcher shop, just didn’t know it had a name. I learn something new everyday. Love it!


  7. M-R says:

    Now now, Barbara – there are those among your “phrases lost to time” that I use ! STILL ! 😀
    “chuffed” frequently; “faffing about” less often, but it is a favourite; “snaffled” often !
    Does this mean I am a relic ? Surely not ! [grin]


    • Indeed you are no relic. You fall into the other category I mention….”those other English speakers across the pond!” Chuffed is such a great word, I must get it into the American vernacular.


    • I’m with M-R. I use those frequently also. Mostly ‘faffing about’ because that’s basically how I spend my life.


      • I just learned “faffing about” recently and intend to use it from now on. So much fun to learn these expressions from our linguistic cousins.


      • M-R says:

        [grin] The reason for that is that your feller and your boys keep you sufficiently occupied as to mean that sometimes you don’t get one thing finished before starting another.
        Whereas with me, I start something that reminds me of something else; and I know that if I don’t do the something else NOW I’ll forget it … and so on.


  8. colonialist says:

    You may be cholerably tuft to know that most of this is still in daily usage, So common that we even Spoonerise it!
    Absolutely top hole, what? Spiffing, actually, to progress to the outermost boundariies of the pink limit.


  9. dorannrule says:

    I love this post and all the archaic or seldom used words. My Mom used to say, “Don’t be an omelet.” Does that qualify? It meant not to be silly or stupid…. a saying from the 1920’s perhaps. As for me, I love the word, “dearth.”


    • “Don’t be an omelet!” I’ve never heard that before in any context and I think it definitely qualifies. What I would love to know is where these expressions comes from. Dearth is good. I like it too! Thanks, Dor!


  10. The omelette reminds me of our Turkish friend in France…who would insist in translating everything into English for us…one of his favourite phrases was – from the French – are you a man or only half a man? Which came out as …are you a man or an omelette?


  11. Always worth a tiki-tour of your blog, Barbara. Chocka with good stuff…


  12. kristieinbc says:

    What a fun post! I especially love British expressions, whether they are current or have long ago gone by the wayside. After watching Call the Midwife I find myself wanting to say something is “perfectly wizard” like Chummy does. When I was in the UK last fall I was told that phrase hasn’t been used since about the 1960s. Ha!


  13. Your spatchcocked chook looks amazing.

    Barbara, I loved this post. I’m glad you explained ‘chuffed’ because another blogger that I follow – Kate Shrewsday – has used it and I wasn’t sure what it meant. There are words and phrases that I use in class that my students are unfamiliar with and I wind up explaining what they are. One phrase was from a former teacher: bull slobber and balderdash (the first, I think, was his way around b.s. – I use blarney slinging for the same reason). They didn’t realize ‘balderdash’ really was a word. It means ‘senseless talk or writing; nonsense.’


  14. Sheryl says:

    What fun words! How did they ever fall into obscurity? Language seems like it was richer and more nuanced in the past.


  15. Margie says:

    All excellent words! We lived in England for two years, and now we are back in Canada… so I’d have to say I’m quite familiar with most of the words you used in your post.
    Jeeves and Wooster was adapted into a British TV Series starring Hugh Laurie as Bertie and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. I have the full set of episodes, and have watched them many times!


    • Thank you, Margie. The weird thing for me is I came to know Hugh Laurie through the American series “House” long before I knew he was really British and played Bertie. When I finally see the J and W episodes, I’m going to have to push Dr. House out of my mind. By the way, the Brits do an amazing job at American accents, don’t they?


      • Margie says:

        I’m sure you won’t see any of ‘House’ in Hugh’s Bertie. Hugh was much younger then!
        Hugh does an amazing American accent. I, of course, have a Canadian accent, though in my mind I don’t have an accent but everyone else does…


  16. Lorilee says:

    Which book contained the phrase the pink limit? My mom was an avid reader and she used this phrase a lot to mean fed up…nearing the hottest of tempers…


  17. Carlotta says:

    “The pink limit” is also used in “Summer Half” (1937) by Angela Thirkell to describe Rose Birkett, an irritating, self-absorbed young woman. Miss Thirkell’s novels are a wonderful source of pre-War expressions (as well as being great reads).


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