The Happiness of the Humdrum

After a few days filled with grandchildren, gifts, food and drink, festive TV [ I particularly loved the programme about the new London Lego store ] (  I started thinking that today is ‘back to the humdrum’. I felt the urge to go for a walk – shake off the Christmas cobwebs, remind myself there is life beyond my Christmas tree – you know the sort of thing – so off I set. As I walked I found myself wondering where the word ‘humdrum’ comes from.

I walked down the same old front street – and saw a lovely wagtail. We get them round here when the weather turns cold; I love watching them bobbing around. Definitely not humdrum.



Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) male perched on fence post, Isle of Coll, Scotland, UK, June
Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) male perched on fence post, Isle of Coll, Scotland, UK, June

I then turned the corner onto the lane which probably still looks pretty much the same as it did when the house proudly displaying ‘1688’ in its brickwork was built. Familiar, yes. Humdrum, no.

I wandered along the lane and found myself watching a squirrel running up and down a tree in that absent-minded fashion they have. I have pondered inventing an app for them, sort of Pokenut Go, which helps them locate their hidden nut supplies, but realising their spending power isn’t going to make me rich I decided against it. Squirrels are a pretty common sight round here, but humdrum? Nah.

I walked along thinking how I will entertain my grandchildren when they come to stay in a couple of days and decided to check out a nearby pub. Yup, even the thought of their invasion drives me to drink. Only kidding, I knew it served pizza, so thought I’d research the serving times and menu before offering to treat them to their dinner there. It’s also handy for a good park where they can get muddy – local, simple, but not humdrum. Children can always surprise us with their insightfulness and creativity in the humblest situations.

I then headed home and made myself a coffee. It must have been about my 5th or 6th of the day. Only a few centuries ago, coffee would have been either unheard-of or a very rare treat indeed. One of my gifts this year was a cafetiere and 2 special matching cups. Coffee – everyday or special, but never, ever humdrum.

Finally, I turned on my computer and looked up the OED’s entry for humdrum, adj. and n. I was hoping for some amazingly intricate, deeply rooted etymology going back to time immemorial. Nope, the first mention of the word is actually humtrum  in 1553, and the entry reads:

Found c1550: apparently a reduplicating formation < hum v.1; it is doubtful whether the second element had any distinct connection with drum n.

Hmmmm, what a let-down. Humdrum indeed! But, Pooh is famous for his hums – and he is absolutely, no way, never ever remotely humdrum. Thankyou Pooh. And thankyou, Lord, for the beauty of the humdrum.


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