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Sunday, February 17, 2019 ARCHIVES  |  SEARCH  |  POST ADS  |  ADVERTISE  |  SUBSCRIBE   |  LOGIN   |  CONTACT US

Humble pie

Mike Gaunt

Well, how very interesting! We have just had a most exasperating experience at the local clinic, where our annual medicals were carried out; the medical equivalent of an MOT.
I must point out at this point that paperwork, papelada, or just papel, is very important to the smooth-running of the Portuguese bureaucracy.
Equally, I should give credit where it is due; the health service is very thorough, if rather bureaucratic and a bit slow.
Anyway, it all started well.
We had given blood, which was sent off to a lab in Coimbra and were told to report a few days later at 8am (had to get up at 7! Shock horror!) for an ECG to make sure our hearts were still beating.
We reported for the ECG, only to be asked by a little Hitler-lady where our paperwork was.
Actually, she barked out “papel?” and held out a small, grubby, imperious hand.
As you might have gathered, I didn’t warm to her, I’m afraid.
We explained, in fractured Portuguese, that we had left it in the clinic when we had given blood the previous week. “Nao possivel,” she shouted, and began to go purple.
“Em casa?” she enquired, venomously.
We refuted the suggestion that we may have left the paperwork at home and were quite definite that it was in the clinic.
Well, everyone began to look for it and calls to Coimbra were made to check it hadn’t been sent off with blood paperwork (it hadn’t). 
We eventually left and made our disconsolate way home, only to find the paperwork on the dining room table! 
You can probably imagine the sense of shame, irritation and, of course, embarrassment.
I went back immediately and quite literally wrung my hands with apology and, Uriah-like, ate humble pie.
Of course, Hitler-lady was smugly smiling, which made it worse.
On the way home, I decided to look up why we eat ‘humble pie’, as I had used the expression but had never really thought about what it was.
As I said at the beginning, how very interesting it is.
It’s all about something called metanalysis, a way of re-defining the ‘break’ between letters or words.
Now, stay with me here.
Apparently, an umble pie was a dish made from numbles, the Old English word for offal.
‘A numble pie’ became ‘an umble pie’, as ‘an ewt’ became ‘a newt’ and ‘a napron’ became ‘an apron’. Coincidentally, the similarity with the word humble and the fact that pies made from numbles were mainly eaten by those of
poorer backgrounds is thought to have led to the idea that an umble pie might have been a humble pie, with the ‘h’ dropped, as is still commonplace.
There is a similar thing going on, apparently, with some words which are originally derived from Arabic, as with algebra, alchemy and alkali, where the ‘al’ is, of course, ‘the’ in Arabic.
So, I ate humble pie and learned what it meant, all on the same day.
What an achievement – or should that be ‘a nachievement’?