(n.) a recurrence of something undesirable after a period of dormancy
A bad penny, as the saying goes, always turns up.
The earliest record of that proverb comes from William Langland’s Piers Plowman, written sometime in the late 1300s, proving that people have been having problems with bad pennies since the Middle Ages at least. But despite its ancientness, the sentiment behind that line remains crucially pertinent: rid yourself of a bad penny, and it won’t take all that long for it to end up back in your own pocket. And this week, we had a walletful.
The first came with the end of Parliament’s Easter recess on Tuesday. With MPs now filtering their way back in the House of Commons, Brexit was soon filtering its way back onto the front pages, after a two-week remission in which the worst the papers could throw at us was the fact that Adele was getting a divorce. But before long the B-word was back on everyone’s lips, knocking all the less important stories of the week (like the imminent fiery ball of climate change carnage about the engulf the Earth) back into the middle pages.
Just as one bad penny had turned back up, however, everyone’s favourite anti-elitist Representative of the Downtrodden Everyman (namely Dulwich College-educated former city trader Nigel Farage) stepped in and emptied his bulging wallet of all the bad pennies he could find, presumably in exchange for a pint of mild and a box of matches.
Having last week introduced us to his Brexit Party, this week it was time for Mr Farage to introduce his candidate list. His B-List, you might say. And cha-cha-chaing her way to the front of the troupe was none other than former Shadow Home Secretary and Conservative MP for Maidstone, Ann Widdecombe.
Having stepped into both the Celebrity Big Brother house and the Strictly Come Dancing spotlight since leaving politics in 2010, it was now time for Widdecombe to step out of retirement. “I really thought my time in politics was over and done with,” she wrote in the Express, neatly echoing the sentiment of much of the United Kingdom. But with Britain labouring under the worst prime minister since Eden, she explained, she now “felt compelled to step up.” And what a step it was.
So Ann Widdecombe too was back. And, we can only presume, her anti-abortion, anti-feminist, antediluvian views were coming with her.
If you’re struggling to find the right words to describe these triumphant returns, then happily the English language is so copiously furnished that the right word is waiting for you: recrudescence.
Referring to what the Oxford English Dictionary describes as “a recurrence of … an undesirable state of things”, the word recrudescence first emerged in the language in the seventeenth century. Back then it was purely a medical term, referring to the re-opening of once-healed wounds and sores, or to the resurfacing of medical complaints that painfully break out afresh after long periods of remission. The later looser sense—describing the re-emergence of anything undesirable—developed from there.
Etymologically, at the root of recrudescence is the Latin crudus, an adjective once variously used to describe raw, bloody flesh, unprepared or uncooked meat, or anything likewise left uselessly or painfully rough or unworked. Unsurprisingly, that’s also the origin of the much more familiar word crude—but after a week of unwelcome returns, it’s recrudescence we’re making this week’s Word of the Week.