On April Fool’s Day, I ran across this item, which purports to be a long-winded rant about common English usage errors (that aren’t really errors). A close read reveals it to be satire. And one thing it does in keeping with the genre of such pieces is begin with a long windup—what I call “the burnishing of the credentials.”
To poke fun at the author, I wrote, “And somehow, this gormless berk can hear apostrophes in the spoken word.” Let’s unpack that epithet, which is British English.
The first part, “gormless,” is explained thus by Oxford Living Dictionaries:
Mid 18th century (originally as gaumless): from dialect gaum ‘understanding’ (from Old Norse gaumr ‘care, heed’) + -less
That’s straightforward enough. It makes a superb addition to any noun meaning “idiot” or “fool,” with the added satisfaction of being in Norse code.
As to the second part, “berk,” it’s a type of Cockney rhyming slang. You’ll be familiar with this if you’re a fan of British comedy. Take a look at this skit by The Two Ronnies. In the sermon, the minister says, “A poor man who had no trouble and strife.” (wife) “She’d run off with a tea leaf.” (thief) “He now lived with his eldest bricks and morter, Mary.” (daughter)
This is the usual way rhyming slang works. “Frog and toad” means “road.” Once you’re wise to this game, context will usually point you straight to the meaning. “I’d go out for a pint, but I’m short bees and honey.” If you guessed what rhymes with “honey,” you’re on the money.
Not all rhyming slang follows this pattern. The more obscure terms have a story behind them, like “didn’t ought” meaning port wine. (Polite ladies, offered a second or third glass, should demur by saying “didn’t ought.”)
“Berk” is of this sort. It’s a truncation of Berkeley Hunt, a fox hunt traditionally held at Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire. As “hunt” rhymes with “cunt,” Bob’s your uncle.
Back to the title of this post, try your savvy: “He wants 800 quid for his old beater. The bloke’s Patrick Swayze.”