Good afternoon class. Today we’re going to discuss a phoney and valueless word, which came to epitomise a phoney and valueless city. If it fell out of the mouths of anyone other than Englishmen, it would be Birmingham, but the rustic tongues of the northern shires turned it into
[ bruhm–uh-juhm ]
showy but inferior and worthless
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF BRUMMAGEM?
Brummagem, an adjective and noun meaning “showy but inferior and worthless; something of that kind,” comes from the local Birmingham (England) pronunciation of Birmingham. The original (and standard) spelling and pronunciation of the city is bir-; the nonstandard or dialect spelling bru– is an example of metathesis, the transposition of sounds, a very common phenomenon.
Compare Modern English bird with Middle English brid (brid was the dominant spelling until about 1475; the spelling bird is first recorded about 1419).
The name Birmingham is first recorded as Bermingeham in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book (1086); spelling variants with Br- first appear in 1198 as Brumingeham. In the mid-17th century Birmingham was renowned for its metalworking and notorious for counterfeit coins. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, there was an abundance of both metal, and men who knew how to work it. It was easy to substitute cheap steel for valuable silver.
Brummagem entered English in the second half of the 17th century.
My Scottish ancestors, up in Glasgow, might steal an Englishman’s silver coins, or serve him a bowl of dodgy oatmeal, but they’d never stoop to counterfeiting. Some of them might have been crooks, but they were honorable, honest crooks. 😉 😳