Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kilroy Wasn't Here

One only of several reasons why I haven't been blogging much is that I've been doing too much Norse and Viking rambling. In April, as well as my trips to the Isle of Man, Orkney and Shetland, all recorded here, I went to a fun symposium on that quintessential Viking saga, Jómsvíkinga saga in Uppsala, and in May, I went to a symposium on the Jelling stone. The last has put me in a runic mood again, and an article that plopped on my doormat yesterday has prompted me to put on public record some thoughts that I have been having for years, and have tried to express more than once, but no one seems to take any notice.

Runologists frequently refer to the mythical graffito 'Kilroy was here' when talking about runic graffiti of the type 'X carved these runes'. This seems to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding based on inadequate research and I wish they would stop. When someone wrote 'X carved these runes', they used their own name and they really were there. Such a graffito is meant to be a proud (or otherwise) record of their presence and their ability to write runes (as evidenced by the fact that such inscriptions can be found on loose objects as well as walls and other fixed places). The Kilroy inscriptions are quite the opposite. There are a lot of stories, some possibly even true, about this phrase on the internet (with quite a sensible article here), while my trusty Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable merely says that 'Its origin is a matter of conjecture', but one thing seems clear. Whether or not a 'Kilroy' once existed, he was certainly not responsible for all the inscriptions with his name that appeared in many places around the world, especially during the high point of this craze in World War II and the 1950s. In runic inscriptions, X appears as many different names. QED.

No comments:

Post a Comment