What is harrogatha?
November 6, 2007 9:14 AM   Subscribe

What, or where, is harrogatha?

A few months ago, my wife posted on her a blog an article that appeared in the September issue of Vogue. It's about Ashley Javier, an exclusive New York hair stylist, whose penthouse shop is in a "rough part of Manhattan":

When he arrived on Twenty-eighth Street, “This place was harrogatha! Harrogatha!”

Neither one of us knows the word, and my wife included in her blog entry a request for a definition. No one has come forward, and I'm beginning to go crazy.

A Google search brings up only my wife's blog reference and what looks like a Hungarian chat room about the game Diablo II. Somehow I don't think Javier the celebrity hair stylist plays first-person shooters. Also, none of the translation software I apply to the chat room seems to recognize harrogatha.

Google also brings up Harrogate, a rather pleasant town in England. Could this be what Javier means? But it seems he's implying that the neighborhood was rough, dirty, messy, awful...I don't think Harrogate applies.

This has become a minor obsession. Obviously the editors at Vogue let the word through, so they at least think it's a real word. I've tried variations in spelling, to no avail.

Anyone know what harrogatha is? Or does anyone know Ashley Javier (offices at 28th and 5th) and they could just ask him?
posted by Flying Saucer to Writing & Language (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ashley Javier Parlor. Phone (212) 252-8794. I suggest you call and try and get in contact with him; he's the only one who can tell you what he meant. God knows what he actually said; the Vogue writer probably misheard or wrote it down weirdly.
posted by languagehat at 9:19 AM on November 6, 2007

Diablo II is a mutiplayer RPG not a FPS :)
posted by brain cloud at 9:28 AM on November 6, 2007

The link to Harrogate might not be as tenuous as you think. According to the Oxford English dictionary, the name Harrogate is applied to a medicinal water, "chemically unstable in contact with oxygen", leading to the following quote:

1967 E. S. TURNER Taking Cure iii. 40 Knaresborough..was to become eclipsed in reputation by the near-by ‘stinking’ wells, the source of ‘Harrogate water’.

Maybe Ashley Javier was basically calling the place "smelly" or "unpleasant"?
posted by LN at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2007

Strictly FYI - Harrogath is a Barbarian fortress city in the game Diablo 2, and it's under siege at times, and the site of discord, tension, battles, etc. I'm not sure why you think a hair stylist can't also be a gamer but sure, it's possible he was making an unflattering comparison between the site of his salon and Harrogath. But as lh says, the only way to know for sure is to get the explanation directly from the source.
posted by iconomy at 9:45 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

By the way, to the extent there are "rough parts" left in Manhattan (and there are) 28th and 5th certainly is not one of them. The "h" isn't capitalized, so I don't think it can be a place name. Could the "h" sound be a latinized J? The "th" a Castilian "s"? Does any of that help us?
posted by The Bellman at 9:46 AM on November 6, 2007

Perhaps it should start with "hair" instead of "harr"?
posted by milkrate at 9:49 AM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your efforts. Here's some context to assist you, straight from September's mammoth Vogue:

"When he arrived on Twenty-eighth Street, 'This place was harrogatha! Harrogatha!' But then he got the chandeliers, a chair, and began cutting girls like writer Jessica Joffe's and model Gemma Ward's hair. He started decorating in earnest, and 'my taste fell together. If you want to get to closed to yourself, forget therapy. Decorate.'"

So it looks like he means the apartment was harrogatha, not the neighborhood. Which is funny, because his office/home is the penthouse.

Bellman: Javier's building is described as "situated in the kind of grim Manhattan intersection that can provoke clinical depression in even the cheeriest girl." I bet you're right, that it's a perfectly nice place, but the author is Plum Sykes. As the contributing fashion editor of Vogue, she probably has, shall we say, different standards than you or I.

iconomy: I certainly don't mean to generalize or stereotype, but having read the article, I really don't think Ashley Javier plays video games. And if he does, he probably wouldn't make a Diablo II reference in the pages of Vogue.
posted by Flying Saucer at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2007

maybe its more than one word and that is why you can't find it?
posted by ian1977 at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2007

I suggest you call and try and get in contact with him

This seems like one of those things were people would prefer to ponder the possibilities than to actually get an answer - one which, most likely, will be mundane.
posted by vacapinta at 10:24 AM on November 6, 2007

Alternately, contact the writer of the story and ask him/her what he/she thinks it means, since they obviously did not feel the need to offer an explanation.
posted by briank at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2007


sounds kinda like Golgotha, which was some sort of Hebrew boneyard if I am not mistaken? And eventually became a metaphor for the afterlife or limbo or something? (eh, right out of my arse but..)

So maybe it is some sort of eastern European version of Golgotha? Or the zip code right next to Golgotha? Maybe he was basically saying...This place is hell.
posted by ian1977 at 10:41 AM on November 6, 2007

I should walk on over and ask - I work in the building next door.
posted by langeNU at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like what might be an exaggerated, breathy, mouth-wide-open pronunciation of the word "horrible". Maybe?
posted by sarelicar at 10:48 AM on November 6, 2007

langeNU - yes!
posted by amtho at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: The problem with contacting the author is that it's Plum Sykes. She's not some junior writer who would be happy to take a phone call. Though "The Devil Wears Prada"s Miranda Priestly is supposed to be Vogue's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, it's thought that Sykes isn't too different.

(You can read my wife's articles on the woman and see for yourself.)

I think there's a better chance of getting to Javier, who might consider himself a celebrity but who's at least less famous than Sykes, which even he would admit.

LangeNU, were you actually volunteering? If not, I may put in a call (or an email) myself tomorrow. First, let's see if we can get any more answers today, though.
posted by Flying Saucer at 11:26 AM on November 6, 2007

I'm guessing it's Spanish Horroroso/a. Feminine ending depending on what he was talking about (piso o apartamento are both masculine as is barrio so don't know why) Many South American/southern spanish accents pronounce the s like this.
posted by Wilder at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2007

Oh and it would be a very camp thing to say at least in castellano.
posted by Wilder at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2007

Ok, here are two thoughts. I suspect that whatever this word is, it's something that's phonetically spelled, and spelled in different ways all over the place. So I looked up permutations of "harrogatha."

There's this slokam/shloka to Ganesha that mentions "arogatham," which I also found in various places spelled "arogatha." (Scroll down to the bottom.)
He who recites this every morning with devotion, these five gems about Lord Ganapati and who remembers in his heart the great Ganesha, will soon be endowed with a healthy life free of blemishes, will attain learning, noble sons, a long life that is calm and pleasant and will be endowed with spiritual and material prosperity.

The word itself sort of means having a clean body, I believe. (I've also found references to "aragatha," which is a holy healing paste.) This shloka is used in hatha yoga, as well. I know very little about yoga or Hinduism, so forgive my ignorance; perhaps someone else can chime in. It's certainly obscure, but I could see a hairstylist being into yoga.

The second thing I found is incredibly farfetched but I'm mentioning it because I thought it interesting. "Harragatha" is referenced in the Oahspe, in this chapter:
9. These, then, are Heads, the chief rab'bahs appointed by Moses, and the places in Egupt whence they were to depart from... Sattu, son of Bal, of the place Harragatha...
The Oahspe is a bible produced using "automatic writing" in the 19th century. Total spiritualist quackery, probably not related to the word used in the article, but it could actually be the origin of the Diablo II reference.

Regardless of its meaning, I think we've all learned something today about the level of ability in Vogue's editorial department.
posted by veronica sawyer at 11:43 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Y'know, myself and others having dug up all that esoteric info, my general impression is that we're ascribing far more intelligence to this Javier character than he deserves.

I'm going with the theory that he made the word up on the spot, assuming in his famousness that he will become the originator of a new bit of slang.

I say we indulge him; Ashley Javier is so harrogatha!
posted by LN at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2007

sounds kinda like Golgotha, which was some sort of Hebrew boneyard if I am not mistaken? And eventually became a metaphor for the afterlife or limbo or something? (eh, right out of my arse but..)

Makes the most sense, and perhaps a hypothesis. The writer intended it as a play on Golgatha and the writer has a Midwestern or general American accent (NOT a New York or North East US accent.) so she pronounces harrow as hair-row. Fairly quick trip from golgatha to hair-row-gatha (which she would write as harrogatha)

Rather obscure pun complicated by the fact that the pun is only a pun in parts of the US and none of the UK? The best I can do.
posted by xetere at 11:53 AM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: Hilarious last line, veronica.

I think Wilder might have it. Horroroso is "hideous" in the online dictionary they provided, which would seem to fit the context nicely.

I'm also sending an inquiry to Vogue via their website, which I doubt will go anywhere. Do you want to be the assistant who knocks on Plum's door and asks, "So...what word is this?"

The link to Ashley Javier that languagehat gave doesn't have a website or email address, so he might get a phone call tomorrow. That is, if langeNU doesn't stop by on their way home. :-)
posted by Flying Saucer at 11:53 AM on November 6, 2007

Or maybe he was referencing Theragatha, which is a book of poems by Buddhist monks who "recount their struggles and accomplishments along the road to arahantship"?

But yeah, as LN said, I'm giving this guy an awful lot of credit.
posted by veronica sawyer at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2007

PLEASE make sure to report back.
posted by theredpen at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2007

I think it was a made-up word. Perhaps an onomatopoeia to convey the chaos and clutter in his place before he decorated it.

Horrorosso makes sense, but why wouldn't a writer stop at some point and confirm that the word they heard was actually a real word in any language?
posted by necessitas at 12:54 PM on November 6, 2007

I cannot believe that any reporter, no matter how dim, could possibly render horroroso (pronounced o-rro-RO-so, the h- being silent) as "harrogatha." I would bet large sums of money against it. (Note that it is z and c that are pronounced "th" in Castilian, not s.) I look forward to a resolution of this.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2007

what looks like a Hungarian chat room about the game Diablo II

It's Croatian, but you're right in that it doesn't seem likely to be relevant.
posted by cerebus19 at 4:20 PM on November 6, 2007

The video clip on this page is an interview with Ashley Javier (if you want to hear what he sounds like).
posted by candyland at 7:25 PM on November 6, 2007

Horrorosso could end up harrogatha.

"harrarassa". "arraRAstha". maybe the reporter was recording, with a digital recorder, and transcribing later without the luxury of asking "hey, wtf was that word?"

I don't know, though. He doesn't have a weird accent. He probably doesn't remember what the hell he said either. Maybe the journalist made it up.
posted by blacklite at 12:28 AM on November 7, 2007

Or maybe(!) Javier says "harrogatha" and he picked it up from some friend of his who lives with a guy who speaks accented Spanish.

posted by blacklite at 12:29 AM on November 7, 2007

blacklite, why do you keep harping on that idea? There is no variety of Spanish in which horroroso/a sounds anything like "harrogatha." The h- and -th- are completely inexplicable based on that word. Let it go.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on November 7, 2007

I'm very, very interested to see a follow-up to this one, too.

Perhaps what Javier said was that the place was "horror gothic" but due to a combination of his accent and the reporter's cluelessness, dumbness, and/or lack of fact-checking (pick any combo) it got printed as "harrogatha." This is my surmise.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:57 AM on November 7, 2007

I think it's a neologism, pidgin English/Spanish, designed to convey "horribly gothic and gothamite."

E.g., "See that pack of NYU co-eds? Harrogatha."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:30 AM on November 7, 2007

How to get to see him at his salon: Bring a copy of the magazine with you, and say politely that you've been asked to visit him in person, to confirm that there are no errors and that he approves of the article.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:11 AM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: I've also sent an email to Javier's New York office (www.magnetny.com), politely asking for clarification. If either he or Vogue responds, I'll post it here.

I'd like to put out one last request that someone in the New York area stop by the parlor to investigate. It's quite possible that a receptionist or assistant has had to answer the question in the last few months. I'd do it, but I'm on the wrong side of the country.

However, if you can wait, hopefully one of the two parties will respond.

In the meantime, "harrogatha" is definitely on my list for Word of the Year. Maybe if we all use it, we can get it in the OED.
posted by Flying Saucer at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2007

This is going to be a 17-pronged attack, because I got his email address from his psychic (long story...don't ask) and Javier gave her permission to email him directly about it. I wrote him this morning, so if I hear back, I'll post it here.
posted by veronica sawyer at 11:21 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've also sent an email to Javier's New York office (www.magnetny.com), politely asking for clarification. If either he or Vogue responds, I'll post it here.

Wow, they are going to hate us! I sent an email on the 6th and forgot to mention it here. I have not heard anything from them yet.
posted by necessitas at 2:48 PM on November 8, 2007

Best answer: Brief update for any of you who still care: I heard back from Ashley, but he asked me to phone him and that he'd explain it (!)--I'll try to get around to it this afternoon.

It all seems very odd that I have the phone number of a man who doesn't even solicit clients.
posted by veronica sawyer at 6:51 AM on November 13, 2007

i still care!
posted by kidsleepy at 7:56 AM on November 13, 2007

Best answer: Vogue Information officer Phyllis Rifield wrote back to me today. She says her response is "from Plum Sykes":

"Ashley has had many questions on this!
Harrogotha is an Ashley-ism: he is rather original and from the south and everything he says is exaggerated and terribly dramatic. Its his over the top way of saying horrid, or horrendous, He has lots of made-up words to express his extraordinary point of view on life."

All grammar and punctuation are from the email, by the way, though I had to add the "s" to "ism". I guess Vogue's spellcheck lets "-im" slip through, too?

So...it's a made-up word that Vogue didn't bother to explain at all! What great writing and editing.

This seems to close the door on the subject, pending more direct investigation from veronica. If Ashley tells her any other "Ashley-isms," I'd love to hear them.
posted by Flying Saucer at 8:39 AM on November 13, 2007

Dude, I'm *so* not calling him if he's "had many questions on this." I'm worried he'll be irritated. And he'll flip out on me and then make up a unique word just for me. And it will mean "trifling woman with $30 haircut."

I'm going with Flying Saucer's take.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:11 AM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: OK, FINE. I called him.

First of all, I gotta say: He not only has a wonderful voice, but a really warm and charming personality. Very genuine.

Anyhow, here's the backstory, and it confirms what Phyllis had to say, but it elaborates on it. Here we go (this is an approximate transcript):

When Ashley moved to NYC 15 years ago, he befriended Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood fame.

So harrogatha (pronounced huh-RAH-gutha) is a term that he picked up from Paul and it means that something is so horrible, so horrendous, so bad that it's practically infectious.

Ashley's not sure where Paul picked it up, or if he made it up.

I remarked that it reminded me of Polari, to which he replied, "Well, I'm not even going to TOUCH that one," and laughed.

And then I thanked him, and he said that he was more than happy to explain it to me, and was fascinated by all the interest in the word (which means he's indeed gotten our other emails).

All in all, a very pleasant experience. And you know what else we've learned today? That we're better journalists than Plum Sykes.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:24 AM on November 13, 2007 [16 favorites]

Oh, and he said it's a term he would use only to describe a thing or place, and not another person.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2007

Well done, VS!

I, too, was reminded of polari. It took me days to get a bizarre medley of Morrissey's Bona Drag out of my head after the first time I read this thread. Now it will take days to get Relax out of my mind.
posted by necessitas at 11:02 AM on November 13, 2007

Response by poster: Hooray!

Thanks, veronica. I never would have guessed that the second syllable is emphasized.

I suppose we could pursue Paul Rutherford in an attempt to learn the word's origin, but we've learned its meaning and Javier's intent, which is good enough for me.

Thanks to everyone who helped. Even roads that lead to dead ends are useful in this kind of effort.

When search engines, wikis, and common sense fail, there is AskMeFi.
posted by Flying Saucer at 12:18 PM on November 13, 2007

posted by brain cloud at 1:12 PM on November 13, 2007

Aww! my theory sucks!
(and LH, one day you'll have to hear me recite "Saco el saco de sal al sol a que se seque" in an Andalu' accent, not one s pronounced, I promise!)
posted by Wilder at 1:45 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

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