broggle (v.) to make repeated ineffectual attempts at doing something

The Conservative–Labour Brexit talks have collapsed. The Brexit Party is riding high in the polls. And with pressure now mounting on her to agree to a departure date ahead of the autumn conference season (and with the EU’s extension period countdown still ticking away in the background) it seems time could finally be catching up with Mrs May.

So what better way to run down the final days of her premiership than by [checks notes] [pauses] [checks notes again] [takes deep breath] [takes even deeper swig of drink] attempting to pass her Withdrawal Agreement through parliament for a fourth time.


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You know the Withdrawal Agreement. It’s the same one that failed to pass through the Commons back in January by the greatest margin in British parliamentary history. And it’s the same one that Parliament then rejected a further two times. And that Speaker John Bercow refused to allow a third meaningful vote on, then oversaw a third meaningful vote on. And that even arch-Brexiteer Daniel Hannan has called “worse than remaining.” And that would pass through the Commons with a clear majority, if only it Mrs May would agree to hold a confirmatory public vote on it. Yeah, that Withdrawal Agreement.

Well, it’s fourth (and, God help us, perhaps even fifth) time unlucky for Mrs May. Earlier this week, Number 10 announced that the Prime Minister was looking to run her deal past MPs once more next month, in the vain and increasingly obsessive hope of hauling her Brexit process over the line ahead of the summer recess.

Yet again it’s a move that seems doomed to failure, with Brexiteer Tories and Remain-supporting Labour MPs still reportedly united in opposition against Mrs May’s deal, along with the DUP, SNP, and Liberal Democrats. But the Prime Minister is thus far sticking to her plan: a fourth reading of her deal is scheduled for the first week in June.

Is there a word for what’s going on? Admittedly, there are likely any number of choice words on the tips of most tongues at the moment, but the one we’ve plumped for as this week’s Word of the Week is an unassuming but no less useful word once attested in a number of northern British dialects: to broggle is to make repeated, ineffectual attempts at doing something.

Etymologically, to brog is to pierce or poke something with a stick, like the embers of a dying fire. The derivative broggle, or brogle, builds on that meaning by attaching a sense of repeated but ineffectual activity.

Originally meaning “to persist in ineffectual attempts to strike a pointed instrument into the same place,” as the great Scottish lexicographer John Jamieson put it, the meaning of broggle eventually broadened to mean “to persist ineffectually,” or to make repeated, unsuccessful attempts of any kind. And a broggler, ultimately, is someone who does precisely that.

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