Words: William Hartston hirple, v. or n.

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IT SOUNDS rather like "hurtle" but means almost the opposite. To hirple is, according to the OED, "to move with a gait between walking and crawling; to walk lamely, to drag a limb". Chambers, with a hint of suspiciousness, says it is "to walk or run as if lame". They agree, however, on its Scottish ancestry, though the OED says its origin is unknown but it suspects a derivation from the Greek.

How can we have let such a splendid word fall into disuse? Was hirpling not precisely the word we should all have used of the Tory party's progress towards the last election?

Dramatically ill-conceived enterprises may hurtle towards oblivion, but most doomed ventures move towards their demise as if with a limp - not with a bang but a hirple.

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