I came across the following in a newspaper column.
the Bergthold blarney was in fine fettle
I tend to think of people, horses, and things such as businesses as being “in fine fettle,” so seeing the expression applied to “blarney” stopped me in my tracks.
blarney – flattering, persuasive speech, often with the intent to deceive. Blarney is employed to pick up women and to sell people things they don’t need. Blarney is what the George Lopez character is a master of when he’s trying to conceal something from his wife. In the news story quoted here, Bergthold is a child abuser who persuaded the DHS to accept him as a foster parent.
The noun blarney with the sense of “gift of gab” derives from a story about Queen Elizabeth I and the Lord of Blarney Castle in Ireland. When Elizabeth tried to elicit an oath of loyalty from him, he gave her long, flattering responses without ever actually submitting to her rule. Said the Queen:
this is all Blarney, he never means what he says and never does what he promises.”
The expression in fine fettle means “in good health, condition, or spirits.” It seems to be especially popular in headlines.
World economy is in fine fettle, says G8 –headline, Telegraph
Flying Rudolph is in fine fettle –headline The Hindu (Flying Rudolph is a race horse.)
At week’s end most West Coast citizens had no thought of panic. What was there to be panicky about? They were in fine fettle. —Time, June 15, 1942
Ridley in fine fettle –headline Gloucestershire newspaper group
Car crash baby in fine fettle –headline, The Local (Sweden’s News in English)
Fettle always comes in the phrase “in fine fettle.” Michael Quinion (World Wide Words) notes that in Yorkshire dialect, fettle could be a verb meaning “to tidy up,” or “repair.” He also points out that the word has specialized meanings in some trades.
I suppose that blarney can be in fine fettle, but the combination still strikes me as odd. What do other writers and readers think?