Have just been handed Lord Salisbury’s rather unflattering review in the Spectator of Lawrence James’ book, Artistocrats. Bob Salisbury, being descended from confidantes of Elizabeth I, knows a bit about the history of the ruling class. But, while the review is a great read (particularly for the unmissable last sentence of the second paragraph), it was Salisbury’s use of ilk in the antepenultimate* paragraph which caught Ety’s eye.
You see ilk is a word of refined heritage. Once upon a time, ilk was a word rarely used by anyone outside the Scottish ruling classes because of its solfunctory meaning. To be ‘of that ilk‘, until the 18th century at the earliest, meant to be of the same place as your name. So, if you were the Duke of Edinburgh and actually lived there, you could choose to sign off letters with the clumsy
Edinburgh, of Ediburgh.”
Or you could choose the far more distinguished
“Edinburgh, of that ilk.”
The word ilk comes from the Old English ilka and Middle English ilke, but basically means ‘same’. So it’s a bit like saying ‘Edinburgh, of the same’.
So when you hear ‘of that ilk‘ to mean ‘of that sort of thing’, then you’re witnessing the return of a word to its etymological origins after centuries wandering the deserts of strangely specific meaning alongside the British aristocracy.
*Yep, antepenultimate. Whaddaword.