Sunday, 23 December 2012

If You Have Tears ... Dr Johnson III

You may have thought it strange that I suggested anything from a Preface to "A Dictionary of the English Language" should be moving, but consider the final words:

"... if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its oeconomy , and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me?

I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquility, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise."

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dr Johnson Speaks Out! Language Change II

No-one has yet submitted an entry here but I did say that Bryan A. Garner definitely qualified for a prize for posting on Twitter the next lines from Dr Johnson's Preface. I originally quoted:

"If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity?"

After wisely conceding the inevitability of change, the great lexicographer (Dr J) continued:

"It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure."

So, in the end we can't stop the changes that we disapprove of but we can say what we feel we are losing, as well as what we are gaining. Perhaps also we should struggle, as Dr J demands, to retain the best of the old, while admitting any useful changes. Although we might not think it right to talk now of degeneration as the great man does, I find his call for effort and vigilance as moving and relevant as ever:

"Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our constitution: let us make some struggles for our language."

From the Preface to "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Greatest English Pope

My nomination for greatest English Pope is Alexander Pope, born Lombard Street in the City of London 1688, died Twickenham, Middlesex 1744.

He is indisputably the greatest English poet named Pope from an established Catholic family.

You can see many of his witty couplets on Twitter at #PopeQuotes and #Pope (not Pontifex). Funnier than the other chap IMHO (in my humble opinion).

He said of himself that in his youth he "thought himself the greatest genius that ever was". As he wrote "An Essay On Criticism" when he was about twenty, he might have had a case.

Indeed Dr Johnson wrote (in his 'Lives of the English Poets'):
"Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings. He, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in solitude, without knowing the powers of other men, is very liable to error; but it was the felicity of Pope to rate himself at his real value."

Beat that you other Popes!

Expletive (In)Fixation

There are a lot of expletives about, not just every other word with some people but in the middle of words, too; they are addicted to them, it seems. Dr Ashley Murphy @LinguistAshley kindly tweeted me from Seoul to tell me the proper name for this: "expletive infixation". Thanks, again. Very appropriate. Awe-f***ing-some!

But wait, there are rules for this, it seems. So fan-f***ing-tastic is fine but my facetious
awe-f***ing-some reply to the good Doctor doesn't work. Well, no, it just doesn't sound right. Partly intentional, he claimed hastily but unconvincingly: it seems the expletive should go before the syllable that has the main stress.

So how do these rules come about? And don't people who are not very good at this sort of thing break these rules? I suppose so, but then unsatisfactory coinings don't last. Is it folk prosodic infixation scanning, to go with folk etymologies and grammar? Clever, eh? As with crowd chants at a football match / game (I meant Association, but any will do) some are judged unworthy and do not catch on.

Ah, well, back to the greatest Engish #Pope (not Pontifex):

While expletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Intrasyllabic Expletive Insertion - Absobloodylutely!

Yes, no, absolutely! No, honestly, I really did hear somebody on the Tube (ok, subway, if you must, US followers) say, without apparent humour, "Abso-f***ing-lutely". Well, ok, not with the arguably mealy-mouthed asteriskification.

I wonder if there is a proper linguist-approved term for this? I felt I was flirting with trouble in an email to an expert a while back by facetiously inventing a journal called Isis Review. I thought at first it might just have been an Oxford student cabaret. But it seemed more convincing the more I googled "is is / double is / double copula". And the spoof name, Dr Nawat Amin, is perfectly possible. No offence intended to any real person. It was invented, indeed, to suggest a very distinguished academic whose research might not be appreciated by the world at large.

Hence, to post or not to post?

Amin (2011): "Intrasyllabic and Intramorphemic Expletive Additions" by Dr Nawat Amin, in Journal of Metropolitan Dialectology, Jan-Jun 2011 (vol. xx, iv).

No, this is only a joke  - just  a link at most. Need to relaunch Joke and Irony Alert?

Neglect the Rules

I've been tweeting about grammar points and following a discussion via @StanCarey on Twitter and at his excellent website called, Alice / Carroll fans, "Sentence First":
about apparent misuse in published novels of "who's" for "whose". I just commented that even the great Jane Austen could be accused of misuse of apostrophes (eg it's, their's) and indeed of poor grammar at times ( eg "those sort of people"). Then I came upon another quotable couplet in "An Essay on Criticism":

"Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays,
For not to know some trifles is a praise."
A. Pope

(I know, the rules on spelling and apostrophes may have been even less clear in Austen's day.)

Bar Hamburg

I heard Arthur Smith on BBC R4 "Loose Ends" say he was going to spend Christmas in Germany, at the Bar Hamburg, I think. I follow him @ArfurSmith on Twitter.

Nature Moves: Great Expectations (2012 film)

"Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find,
Where nature moves and rapture warms the mind."
(From "An Essay On Criticism" by Alexander Pope)

I didn't have great expectations, especially after the last BBC TV adaptation. But, in fact, I was sniffing and dabbing away manly tears all the way through. I thought it was wonderful, right from the first shots of the Kentish "meshes" and the churchyard. By the by, Cooling (Kent) churchyard has a family plot with so many children's graves that the usually over-the-top Dickens actually had to cut the number down to make it more believable.

Even David Walliams and the comedy characters worked for me. Well, they were just ... Dickensian! And the Finches / Bullingdon Club scene! And Wemmick with his office and his Walworth persona! And the lovely Pips (brothers!) and Estella, haughty but not cold, with a quiver of emotion and even (innovation, this) a touch of sympathy and feeling for Pip in the early scenes.

And Sir Ranulph, no sorry, Ralph Fiennes - is that right? - with an impeccable Cockney persona and accent, thanks in no small part to the admirable dialect coach Joan Washington! Or was it North Kentish? That was my only nit-picking point, the yokel-type Kentish accents. Does anyone know how people spoke around Rochester then? Possibly they had done research and it was accurate. I hope so - and after all Rochester area accents were more countrified and even rhotic (ooh arr ooh arr eh) in those days. Anyway, Joan W wasn't in charge of those characters, I imagine, but 1:1 with RF. And it didn't spoil it though it might have reduced my emotional and tear-ridden assessment from 10/10 to 9.75. After all we have to aim for a perfect fulfilment of our expectations one day.

But I'm not seeking to find any faults #Pope (not Pontifex) !

Monday, 17 December 2012

Barnet Hospital

This is probably not a new thought but seeing a bus with "Barnet Hospital" on the front made me wonder if it could have "Emergency Hair Care" in brackets.

Friday, 14 December 2012

"The Hour" (BBC TV) Again

Well, big, bloody and involving finish! But I found it difficult to concentrate sometimes. Sort of used to the unconsciously AmE language or the stuff just used without a thought by young people as normal BrE, "raise" for "rise", "call her" for "ring / phone her", "do you have his address?" etc. I don't think I heard "Can I get a tea?" but probably will in next Downton.

But the last episode had someone "whose stock has crashed", "Westminster is running scared", a "nooclear" (or was it "noocular"? ), several "Piss off!"-s (one shouted down the phone and seeming rather modern), and, interestingly, "no lon(g)er" with silent g, not often heard on the BBC until "the Stron(g)est Link"*. I used to muse whether the last was an idiosyncrasy of Ms Robinson, possibly after elocution lessons in Lancashire, or the Wirral or somewhere.

But this is strangely anticipatory, retrospectively anachronistic. Or is it? Aren't anachronisms usually retrospective? What's the oppositte of anaphorically? Maybe cataphorically? Why is this one particularly disturbing? What am I talking about late at night? I am confused. And don't start me on the glasses / specs.

A shame as it all distracts from all the important and worthwhile elements, not least the interesting casting - a very beautiful but implausibly fragile Producer, for example, who, while fascinating me, made me wonder what the impressive Anna Chancellor would have done in that role. Detracts and distracts, too, from the powerful and admirable acting.

* A phrase used on BBC TV quiz show "The Weakest Link".

In-Swinger or Off-Cutter, Aggers?

Both SkyCricket and Test Match Special loosely talk of swing when it is seam movement. I don't think they give Jimmy Anderson, for example, enough credit. When there is little swing, he really works on the seam, bowling fast off- and leg-cutters.

Delighted that Lord (David) Gower, at least, intelligent and witty as ever, took up my point! Liked his surprise question to Athers, too: "OK, who was the first official British Prime Minister?"

The Empty Air

I sometimes think my wit
Is wasted on the empty air:
Very few can read it
And the wife doesn't care.

(Apologies to Clydesdale, only half true.)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

New Hashtag: Pope (not Pontifex) - and PopeQuotes

I started the Pontifex hash tag but it got mixed up with the Pope Benedict ones - so I did some with #PopeQuotes but there are lots already, about the Pope tweeting etc. I meant Alexander Pope, the poet (1688-1744), you know?

There are so many great quotes and a lot which are relevant to language matters, journalism, Twitter and so on. How about this one:

Ask you what provocation I have had?
The strong antipathy of good to bad.
(From "To Augustus")


Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
(From "An Essay in Criticism")

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Pope not Pontifex, Jeremy

Well, Shakespeare quotes every day and Chaucer doth tweet, so what about Pope? Not Pontifex, he seems to have an account but to be silent.

I was prompted to start this by seeing Jeremy Hardy last night. Clydesdale and I agreed that his rants, or material, were / was much the same as mine but that he was much nicer and funnier - and he's on Radio4.

I tweeted him to this effect but then softened it to "What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed." That was Pope (not Pontifex). Still no tweets from him or Himself, or replies from anybody (except my one loyal reader), in fact.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Turnham Clean!

On "Turnham Green, please" just saw this photo of "Turn'em Clean", a dry-cleaners there:

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ellis Edgar Achong

"A Chinaman": now there are variations on the origin of this cricketing term and even its present meaning can vary from speaker to speaker and country to country. Generally, though, it means a delivery by a slow left arm bowler that turns in the opposite direction from "normal". (This could be from leg to off for a SLA wrist-spinner as opposed to an orthodox one.)

One version of the story goes that E.E. "Puss" Achong, touring England with the West Indies in the 1930s, dismissed Walter Robbins of England with a ball that moved "the other way", that is, presumably, from off to leg. "Fancy being got out by a Chinaman!" Robbins is supposed to have remarked - or something a lot stronger, in some versions. "Do you mean the delivery or the player?" asked the West Indian captain, who had seen Achong's variations before. Apparently the term has stuck ever since.

Achong is reputed to have bowled both left arm orthodox finger-spin and the less common wrist-spin. The term "Chinaman" is sometimes used in a more restricted sense for the left arm wrist-spinner's googly, or "wrong un". He also, by the way, represented Trinidad and Tobago at football (or soccer, to all my transatlantic readers). Any questions?

Cricketers' Names III

The baseball joke I mentioned relied on using a foreign / ethnic minority name but I haven't dared go there yet (although I've got one myself): "Hoo's on first base". This is presumably a reference to a player of Chinese origin and there have no doubt been plenty of those in baseball, as well as some in cricket. Indeed, the inventor of the Chinaman delivery was reputedly a Trinidadian of Chinese ancestry. What was his name? (Oh, don't start that again. I'll look him up.) The joke continued with "I don't know" on third base, I think, which seemed even weaker, though I have met an Odonwo or two, if I remember right.

Well 'ard! Cricketers' names (cont.)

Harold Pinter wrote somewhere that his proudest moment was not receiving a theatrical ovation or a big literary award, but getting a curt "Well, batted, lad" from Arthur Wellard. I imagine that not even the Nobel Prize would have come close.*

Wellard played for Bexley CC, where I netted and failed to make the team as a shortsighted under-12. He went on to play for Somerset and England, picked mainly for his seam bowling but also for his lower order six-hitting. He also played for the Gaieties, Pinter's team, well into his seventies. Well 'ard: hard but fair.

*This was how I remembered it but on Pinter's website, still extant, he records Wellard's remark as "I was proud of you." Pinter scored a slow 25 and, with his partner, saved the match. Even better.

No Holding - Bowler's name?!

In the sort of cricket I used to play the teams often struggled to field eleven men and it was very rare to have a designated scorer. So it was common for the batting side to take it in turns to score and to have to shout out to the fielders "Bowler's name?!" at each change. Merriment could be had with some names, even apart from comical pretended mishearings. (I always hoped to tour the Netherlands where my name might be written down without comment for a change - but I never did.) Imagine if Jack Crapp of Gloucestershire and England had bowled for a pub team! It was bad enough with names like Dyer: "Oh, give him a chance. He might not be that bad!"

Although there are other unfortunate names like Cheetham or Crook, Pratt or Sidebottom - father and son sidle, unfairly, into my mind at this point - there have been many suitably or even poetically named players at first class and international level. By the by, baseball fans might think of the Abbott & Costello joke "Who's on first base?" This might work even better in Norfolk where Hugh and Hughes are pronounced without the yod, "Who" and "Who's".

Anyway, there have always been Fielders, Players, Bowlers, Stumpers, Batts and Balls. And Boots, Plimsolls, Insoles, Studds and even Boxes. Then there are the pastoral or agricultural names like Park(e)s, Mead(e)s, Meadows, Rivers, Forests, Woods and Underwoods, plus Hoggards, Shepherds and Oakmans (-men) to go with them.

In addition to those Bowlers, there have been Breakwells, Seamers, Throwers, Pitchers, Drivers, Hookers and Pullars, Cutts and Cutters, and other occupational names like Glover, Palmer and Shooter or Shuter. Birds and beasts of the field occur in the scorebook, too. Do you know your Hawkes from your Hansers? Preferable to Bulls and Hoggs, perhaps, though they both could be formidable, too.

And what about the lovely combination of Parfitt, Gentle and Knight? Somebody tell me they played together! And then I won't even mention the Willeys and Holdings!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Changin' the Gee

There's a lot of talk about new legislation, especially about Leveson and the Press. If commentators have to say the word several times they seem to find it tedious and change the g to a hard one - it seems less trouble, perhaps?

Now one or more of my distinguished linguist (good rhyming moniker just tossed away there) followers will tell me that this is "A very well-observed phenomenon, usually known in the literature as neopalataldroppification", or summat - then I'll feel silly, again!