October 8th, 2013


Tuesday Word: pilgarlic

A pilgarlic is a bald head or a bald person -- a head or someone who has a head that resembles a peeled garlic clove. As if being called a pilgarlic wasn't bad enough, it sometimes carries connotations of the baldness having been caused by disease, particularly venereal disease. Pilgarlic may also be applied in a mocking way to a person who inspires mild contempt or pity, similar to "old goat," a bad-tempered or lecherous old man, or "poor baby," or applied in a self-deprecating way to oneself, often capitalized and with "poor" ("poor Pilgarlic").

One of my top-secret word sources, which may or may not be Jeffrey Kacirk's The Word Museum, also defines a pilgarlic as someone who is not only roped into working when others are having fun, but doing the sort of work that contributes to the good time they're missing out on. Knowledge of the word pilgarlic gives the party guest who is looking forward to an enjoyable, relaxing night out but instead, at the insistence of their host, spends the evening guarding the coats or convincing progressively less reasonable people to use coasters yet another reason to feel sorry for themselves.

Pilgarlic comes from pill, which is sometimes used as a synonym for the verb form of peel, and, of course, garlic. The origins of pilgarlic's meanings are somewhat mysterious. In my research for this post, I found a letter printed in the March 5th, 1883 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript ("Answer to Query 5510," here) that is chock-full of potential explanations just begging to be investigated by someone who doesn't have a deadline to meet! It suggests, for instance, that in the sense of a pathetic person, pilgarlic may draw its meaning from the peeling of garlic being one of those tasks typically assigned to the most lowly of kitchen workers. Well, who knows. At least it's something to think about while attempting to clear your fingernails of those sticky little shreds of garlic skin..no doubt after having driven away yet another kindly volunteer soup-making assistant with a badly-timed demonstration of word knowledge.