Raddle and hum

In Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends there’s the following description of the double agent Kim Philby gradually coming undone while stationed in Washington in the 1950s:

Philby was only thirty-eight but looked older. There was already something raddled in his handsome features. The eyes remained bright, but the bags beneath them were growing heavier, and the lunches at Harvey’s were taking a toll on his waistline.

At first blush I thought “raddled” must be a misprint for “rattled.” But somehow that seemed unlikely so I looked it up and found that there really is a word raddled that means old and worn-out or “confused . . . often associated with alcohol and drugs.” Since Philby was prematurely aged and drinking epic amounts at the time the word fit perfectly.

Nobody know where raddled comes from. Its first use in English may have come in a 1694 translation of Rabelais that described “a . . . fellow, continually raddled, and as drunk as a wheelbarrow.” Whatever that means. It may derive from “raddle,” which is a red ochre used for marking animals. From there, to be “raddled” came to refer to an overapplication of rouge. I don’t know how it then made the leap to meaning broken-down, confused and discomposed, but it blends in nicely with “addled” and “rattled.” Well played by Macintyre.

Words, words, words


23 thoughts on “Raddle and hum

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