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Pronounced /mɑːməlʌɪz/Help with pronunciation

Two of my readers were listening to a broadcast on Australian radio of the cricket test match between their country and New Zealand and heard the commentator use marmalised. They asked me for more information.

Marmalise means “utterly destroyed” or “totally demolished”. It’s still known in Britain, though less than it was when the renowned Liverpudlian comedian Ken Dodd popularised it in the 1960s.

It’s long-established Liverpool-Irish slang, said to be from marmalade plus pulverise. Its earliest known appearance in print is in Lern Yerself Scouse: How to Talk Proper in Liverpool by Frank Shaw, Fritz Spiegl and Stan Kelly: “I’ll marmalise yer. / will chastise you severely.” On rare occasions it has appeared in more exalted company:

It was the time of what was called “the slag heap affair” a complicated allegation that one of Wilson’s aides had surreptitiously acquired disused colliery land and was selling it off at an exorbitant profit. Tory backbenchers were trying desperately to involve the prime minister in what was, at worst, a minor error of judgment, and Mintoff was given a detailed account of the depths to which they would stoop during Question Time at a quarter past three. “How will you deal with it?” the honoured guest enquired. Wilson paused before he gave his carefully considered answer. “In the words of Ken Dodd, our great national comedian, I shall marmalise ’em.” And he did.

Roy Hattersley, writing in the Sunday Times, 5 Dec. 1993.

Recent examples in the British press are nearly always in sports reports:

The Exiles were marmalised whenever a scrum was called, while the home side’s pick-and-goes were orchestrated to devastating effect.

Bath Chronicle, 5 Jan. 2012.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 21 Jan. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 21 January 2012.