Dynamist Blog

Glamour and the Writer's Life

In his poem "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," Sir Walter Scott introduced the word glamour into English from Scots, where it meant a literal magic spell that kept the subject from seeing things as they really are:

And one short spell therein he read:
It had much of glamour might;
Could make a ladye seem a knight;
The cobwebs on a dungeon wall
Seem tapestry in lordly hall;
A nut-shell seem a gilded barge,
A sheeling [a shepherd's hut] seem a palace large,
And youth seem age, and age seem youth:
All was delusion, nought was truth.

Scott also used the word glamour in his diary, describing a phenomenon all too familiar to writers and editors:

August 12. -- Wrote a little in the morning; then Duty and I have settled that this is to be a kind of holiday, providing the volume be finished to-morrow. I went to breakfast at Chiefswood, and after that affair was happily transacted, I wended me merrily to the Black Cock Stripe, and there caused Tom Purdie and John Swanston cut out a quantity of firs. Got home about two o'clock, and set to correct a set of proofs. James Ballantyne presages well of this work, but is afraid of inaccuracies -- so am I -- but things must be as they may. There is a kind of glamour about me, which sometimes makes me read dates, etc., in the proof-sheets, not as they actually do stand, but as they ought to stand. I wonder if a pill of holy trefoil would dispel this fascination.

The word glamour is occasionally still used in the old sense, most recently (in my experience, that is) on the penultimate episode of Angel. I'm working on a proposal for a book on glamour, which is why you're getting etymology rather than discussions of means-testing social security. I promise some less esoteric entries (though not necessarily on social security) this evening.

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