‘godwottery’: meanings and origin

Of British-English origin, the derogatory noun godwottery denotes:
– gardening or garden design in an affected, fussily decorative or over-elaborate style;
– archaic and affected language.

This noun is from:
– the phrase God wot, meaning God knows;
– the suffix -ery, meaning that which is characteristic of, with contemptuous implication, as in nouns such as knavery and popery.
—Cf. also the noun whataboutery, denoting the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.

The noun godwottery alludes to the first line of My Garden, published in Old John and other poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1893), by the Manx poet Thomas Edward Brown (1830-1897):

My Garden

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
     Fringed pool,
Ferned grot—
     The veriest school
     Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not—
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
     Nay, but I have a sign;
     ’Tis very sure God walks in mine.

The earliest occurrences of the noun godwottery that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the account of the Chelsea Flower Show, by a special correspondent, published in the Evening Standard (London, England) of Tuesday 19th May 1931:

Out in the open air, the garden exhibits are better than ever. We seem to be slightly recovering from the blight of pot-doggery, God-wottery, and too many soapy looking copies of the Verochis [sic] dolphin boy *, which descended a few years ago, and some of these astonishingly settled looking gardens are marvels of peace and dignity in a small space.

[* This refers to Putto with a Dolphin, a bronze statue of a winged boy standing on a partial sphere and holding a wriggling dolphin, by the Italian sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio (c.1435-1488).]

2-: From The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 15th November 1936—this newspaper had asked its readers to list the well-known poems they most disliked, and it turned out that Thomas Edward Brown’s My Garden was among the most unpopular ten poems; the newspaper commented as follows:

“My Garden” seems to arouse a peculiar sense of hostility. “So insufferably sloppy and ungrammatical as to merit being in a class by itself,” says Mrs. R. R.; and Mr. McN. remarks that it “has given rise to so much ‘godwottery.’”

3-: From Out of Doors, by Jan Struther, pen name of the British author Joyce Maxtone Graham (née Anstruther – 1901-1953), as published in Try Anything Twice: Essays and Sketches (London: Chatto & Windus, 1938):

Summer is here; and there is certain to be quite a number of days on which she will attend to the job herself and not palm us off with a stand-in. On one of these days, leaning out of the window after breakfast and sniffing ecstatically at perfection, you decide that it would be a crime to sit indoors at a writing-table on a morning like this: you will take your work out into the garden and do it there. It all sounds so simple and so idyllic. What could be a pleasanter and a nobler occupation than to sit in the sunshine, green grass beneath your feet, balmy zephyrs playing with your hair, the scent of flowers in every breath you take, and to write immortal poetry–or even, for that matter, perishable prose?
But in practice there are snags. […]
[…] There is the garden itself: and this is the most distracting thing of all. There is no need to descend to Godwottery, or even to know the difference between an aquilegia and an antirrhinum, in order to be enthralled by the ingenious and lovely permutations of shape, colour and texture–to say nothing of scent–which surround you. Whatever your personal beliefs, you cannot deny that the affair has been well done.

4-: From The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 10th July 1938—this newspaper had asked its readers to list life’s smaller annoyances, and one of the replies was as follows:

Nasty little imitation birds and animals dabbed about in front gardens, and all other forms of God-Wottery. (T. R. R.)

5-: From Soft Words and Hard Facts, by Ivor Brown, published in The Manchester Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Saturday 26th November 1938:

“Dainty” has been so much attached to the service of teas that it now seems ridiculous elsewhere.
This word has actually been so overworked as to become a deterrent: were I, thirsting for tea, to arrive in a village which offered “Dainty teas” on one side of the road and “Teas” on the other, the latter would have my shilling. In the latter I should look for a good, black brew, no nonsense, and the stuff served quickly. The former I should suspect of twenty minutes’ delay, warming-pans on the wall, God-wottery in the garden, weak tea in the pot, and a charge of eighteenpence just to convince one how deucedly dainty it all was.

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