Wednesday’s Wondrous Word

I have just one wondrous word this week –  ‘waffeting’.

It’s from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. In 1529, Cardinal Wolsey has been ordered to go straight to the Tower of London, but he decides to go to Esher. His barge has arrived:

When they get out to the cardinal’s barge his flags are flying: the Tudor rose, the Cornish choughs. Cavendish says, wide-eyed, ‘Look at all these little boats, waffeting up and down.’ For a moment, the cardinal thinks the Londoners have turned out to wish him well. But as he enters the barge, there are sounds of hooting and booing from the boats; spectators crowd the bank, and though the cardinal’s men keep them  back, their intent is clear. When the oars begin to row upstream, and not downstream to the Tower, there are groans and shouted threats. (page 54)

It didn’t strike me straight away that I didn’t know what waffeting means because this paragraph paints such a vivid picture of the spectacle of the barge on the Thames, with the sight of the boats and the threatening sounds of crowd. I thought waffeting must mean something such as the movement of the boats jostled together and bobbing up and down on the river.

I can’t find the word in any of my dictionaries or in any of the online dictionaries I’ve checked. The closest I could find are the verbs waff,  which means to wave, flap, flutter, and waft, which means to float, sail pass through the air.  The noun waftage is the act of wafting or waving, derived from wafter meaning a convoying vessel, probably derived from Low German or Dutch.

Interestingly (at least I think it is) waffeting is the word George Cavendish, who was Wolsey’s gentleman usher and later his biographer used to describe the scene:

 He was ordered to retire to Esher; and, “at the taking of his barge,” Cavendish saw no less than a thousand boats full of men and women of the city of London, “waffeting up and down in Thames,” to see him sent, as they expected, to the Tower.” (from Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p251) quoted in Froude’s History of England: The Reign of Henry VIII Volume I (page 125 ref: footnote 214) (first published in 1909).

Hilary Mantel doesn’t give a bibliography of sources for Wolf Hall, but in an Author’s Note she refers to George Cavendish’s book ‘Thomas Wolsey, late Cardinal, in his Life and Death’ which he began to write in 1554 when Mary came to the throne. It took him four years to complete. She writes that it is ‘ a very touching, immediate and readable account of Wolsey’s career and Thomas Cromwell’s part in it. It’s influence on shakespeare is clear.’ (page 651)

I think waffeting is such a good word and gives a contemporary and authentic description of the scene.

For more Wondrous Words go to Bermudaonion’s Weblog.

6 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Wondrous Word

  1. Excellent word! I like the sluething you did with regards to George Cavendish, Wolsey, and Mantel. Sounds like Mantel incorporated the word from Cavendish, which underscores the research that went into the writing of the book. Makes me happy just knowing…


  2. I am also reading Wolf Hall and didn’t notice I didn’t know the meaning of that word either. What an interesting post! Thank you 🙂


  3. I can’t say that I’ve heard of waffeting before, and it’s very interesting that its no where to be found. Great word. I have a post here if you’re interested.


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