‘He pontificates, and she rabbits on,’ said my friend witheringly, by way of explaining why he would not be having dinner with a certain couple we know.
I grinned in delight at the precision, the graphicness, the concision: he bang hit the nail on the head about the people in question. But look how easy English makes it.
We have a massive number of words and phrases for expressing nuances or distinctions in the way people speak.
But the really fascinating thing is how, in one ordinary sentence, you can use two verbs from the opposite ends of the register and from completely different provenances. Latin and Cockney Rhyming Slang in one breath? Wow.
‘Pontificate’ derives from Latin, ultimately from the word for priest, pontifex (which very interestingly means bridge-maker.) In Medieval Latin, pontificare means to officiate as a pontiff, to celebrate pontifical mass; and to speak or express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way.
But what about ‘rabbit on’, meaning to talk in a noisy, excited, often incomprehensible way? What’s with the rabbit?
Here’s what I found:
In Cockney Rhyming Slang, ‘rabbit and pork’ means ‘talk’.
The really fun thing about rhyming slang is that the actual rhyming word is dropped, hence rabbit = talk. Rhyming Slang is thought to have been a secret language used by the underworld in London.
‘Rabbit and pork’ is a fairly recent coinage, first recorded in the 1940s, and like many rhyming slang expressions that have entered the mainstream, seems to have been widely disseminated via TV comedy shows.
So now you know.