Will No One Rid Me Of This Modified Noun-Phrase?

As the story goes, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was rather messily killed by knights of King Henry II of England on Dec. 29th, 1170, after the king asked from his sickbed, regarding Becket, “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Or maybe “…troublesome priest”. Or “meddlesome priest”?

Or possibly pestilent, pestilential, tiresome, meddling, vexing, worrisome, insolent, accursed, cursed, bothersome, dammed [sic], insufferable, or parish priest. It depends on who you google, though “turbulent”, “troublesome”, and “meddlesome” seem to dominate the more direct discussions of Henry’s query and Becket’s death, and to dominate the snowclonish repurposings of same as the results below suggest.

(Or it may have been “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”, according to Edward Grim, but that’s hardly as snappy or as good for riffing. Repeatability is nine tenths of the meme.)

In any case, Henry and Becket are dead and I’m hardly a historical scholar; but the phrase lives on as a popular snowclone, and I am enthusiastic about snowclones indeed, so I decided this morning to do a little googling and put together a list of the first several dozen riffs on this phrase I could find.

In other words, what sorts of things other than priests do folks on the internet wish they could be rid of, and how, exactly, would said folks characterize said non-priests?

OED TUB TIME MACHINE

But first, a little digression. Now, besides being shit at history, I’m the very layest of lay etymologists, so someone with a better grasp of either would be able to provide more clarifying detail here, but one lurking question about the variation in word-choice in the popular phrases is that of whether any given word was contemporary to Henry II when he was committing his sly bedridden speech act in the late 12th C.

The OED’s cites for “turbulent”, for example, only go back to the 16th and 17th century, four hundred years or so after Henry uttered it.

“Troublesome” similarly has plenty of mid-16th century cites, but nothing earlier. “Trouble” itself has cites back to 1230, though, and “some” is an older word still though I’m having trouble making sense of the OED’s citations of this variant of the “-some” suffix form in particular.

“Meddlesome” has nothing before the early 17th, though “meddle” like “trouble” seems to be roughly contemporary to Henry II.

How much of this is a just a natural symptom of relatively poor records before Gutenberg hit the scene in the mid 15th C. I can’t say. I know a whole lot less than I would like about the practicalities of the work the OED and etymologists in general do.

But, in any case, the path from what Henry II did say to what folks are willing to suggest he said is an interestingly twisty one, the road from Early-Middle English (or Anglo Norman or Old French or whatever Henry was shouting in when under the weather and upset at his holy men) probably being as much one of translation as anything. Assuming, again, that he even said this and not what Grim quotes. (Unfortunately, the historical works of Preston & Logan do not address the subject.)

AVOID THE NOID CLERGY

In order to avoid a pile of references to original line, I used the search string “will no one rid me of this” -”priest”, and looked through the first ten or so pages of results.

I’ve organized the results by type — the big three modifiers, miscellaneous other modifiers, and a handful of versions that eschew the modifier entirely in favor of a bare noun phrase, as well as a note about a structural collision.

There’s an interesting variety here. Some citations are explicitly political or bureaucratic in a way that suggests a very strong intentional nod to the historical root (though with varying moral vectors, from “let’s not be hasty or careless with our words” all the way to “for god’s sake, go eliminate the figurative archbishop already”); others are clearly farther from the source, and it’s worth speculating a little about where the reference is a knowing literary play and where it’s a second-hand play on a phrase unmoored from its origins, and to what degree that can be deduced by the form and presentation of the snowclone.

(One otherwise unremarkable citation I saw attributed the line to Shakespeare. It does feel a little Shakespeare-y to me; on the other hand, it doesn’t feel very Twain-y or Franklin-y. There’s a web game waiting to be made here where quotes (actual, apocryphal, or newly fabricated) are presented to the reader who is then asked to pick between which of those three overly-attributed English figures wrote it up. Another day.)

In any case this is necessarily not an exhaustive list of even what google can find; the hitcount for the search is around 13K, and while that is presumably inflated by omitted duplicates and such I don’t have the patience to try and crawl through the whole list. There are no doubt more examples to be found for the intrepid searcher. And now, the list:

MEDDLESOME

meddlesome Duke
meddlesome PIECE
meddlesome Stiftung
meddlesome beast
meddlesome bow
meddlesome judge
meddlesome man
meddlesome marionette
meddlesome monk (a variant quote of Henry II)
meddlesome mouseketeer
meddlesome officer
meddlesome poop
meddlesome problem
meddlesome slump
meddlesome state trooper
meddlesome student worker
meddlesome transcription
meddlesome woodpecker

TROUBLESOME

troublesome Avenger
troublesome Elmendorf
troublesome Friend (of Courtney Cox)
troublesome bitch
troublesome catcher
troublesome chair
troublesome congress
troublesome cough
troublesome government
troublesome hockey player
troublesome lawmaker
troublesome malware
troublesome man
troublesome plugin
troublesome plumber
troublesome pope
troublesome prelate (another variant quote of Henry II)
troublesome press
troublesome weed
troublesome work

TURBULENT

turbulent Democratic Congress
turbulent Loser (of the reality show)
turbulent Prime Minister
turbulent Red
turbulent SFX Deputy Editor
turbulent author
turbulent bird
turbulent central banker
turbulent chancellor
turbulent judge
turbulent penguin
turbulent picnic table
turbulent snow
turbulent splash screen

MISC. MODIFIERS

bothersome 130-pound diabetic
indolent man
irritating modal fallacy
moose-eating harpy bitch
obstructionist Senate
overrated, overblown, omnipresent celluloid stupidity
pestilential beast
stinking town
termagant wife
tiresome coon
ubiqtuitous frontsman
upstart mouse

UNMODIFIED VARIANTS

Dwarf
annoyance
ex-girlfriend
man
stock
access denied

MUHAMMED REFERENCES

There were also many hits for pages using the forms “…woman” or “…daughter of Marwan”, as a point of citation regarding Muhammed and Islam, on any number of pages taking a generally deeply critical stance re: same.

I’m ten-foot-poling that one; I’ll note the curiosity of the structural overlap with the popular rendering of Henry II, but beyond that you’re on your own if you want to explore it. Let me know if you find anything linguistically or historically interesting.

2 thoughts on “Will No One Rid Me Of This Modified Noun-Phrase?

  1. I had a small role in a college production of “A Man for All Seasons” and in the play it was definitely “meddlesome”, although the actor who played Henry VIII kept starting the famous line with “Will someone…” while the director reminded him the play’s wording was “Will no one…” (making it more of a rhetorical question).

    BTW, my small role was Cardinal Wolsey, Becket’s predecessor, who had one scene in the first act, then died off-stage, a nice short evening’s work. Anyway, the scene involved Wolsey and Becket arguing over royal and church politics, a lot of exposition but also a lot of emotion… and to this day, the only line I can remember from that scene is “Our ambassador is a ninny!” (If you see the movie of it, you’ll see Orson Welles deliver that line – I tried my hardest to do an Orson Welles-ish delivery, but for that line, I kept lapsing into Paul Lynde)

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