Thursday, 23 January 2014

Trousers and skin - 50% off?

  I am often amused by sale signs like "Trousers 50% Off!" Can you choose which leg? A skin clinic near me had a special offer which I read as "Sale! Skin: 50% off!" Gosh, how do they do that? Those skin-eating fish? Apparently it is a chain called "Sk:n" - but still ...

By the by, in BrE we say "In the Sale" for a special Sale and "on sale" for normal times when goods are just for sale at normal prices. Or do we? Have we gone totally AmE in retail so that "On Sale" means in a special, reduced prices sale? Comments from my world-wide following, and indeed my UK follower, would be appreciated.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Very, Holmes.

 I mentioned that Holmes and Watson (or Doyle) have some usages which are still criticised as modern abuses or mistakes: "very unique" is one.

I had not noticed native speakers saying "very delicious" until relatively recently - but maybe I just hadn't noticed. On the other hand, I have commented on people saying "absolutely", which used to be one of the few modifiers used with these "ungradables",  with normal gradable adjectives: "That's absolutely important", for example.

But Holmes certainly says "very delighted", which seems similar (in "the Stockbroker's Clerk"). So, I will look out for other "modern horrors" from over a hundred years ago. I might even spot a "Yes, no, absolutely, Holmes!"

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Joy of ... punctuation

 In the couplet my last post I originally used a colon at the end of the first line. I then thought a semi-colon might be better as it is a continuation, rather than a summing up or consequence. I am still not sure and will have to give it some more thought, like the great Oscar taking all morning to remove a comma. Punctuation can be a pleasure. I am thinking of O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series and its lovely semicolons. No one is infallible, however, not even POB or his wife Mary, or his editors, come to that.

Pope bites back

 I sometimes get a bit grumpy when people are very quick to criticise but slow to thank or even acknowledge hints or suggestions. It is especially noticeable on Twitter, which seems to encourage brusque or even aggressive assertions. I thought I'd start a new hashtag for Pope-like squibs or comments. Alexander, I meant, not that other chap. But #Popisms was already taken, for things your Dad or Pop might say. So I had to go with the unwieldy #AlexanderPopisms. First one:

Quick to correct but to acknowledge loath;
A scholar would be happy to do both.

Sherlock's past history and the incident of the cap on the train

 I've often heard and read that Sherlock Holmes never wore a deerstalker cap, that it was an invention of the illustrators or film directors and so on. But in "Silver Blaze", the story with the incident of the dog in the night, Watson describes Holmes on the train to Tavistock "with his sharp, eager face framed in his flapped travelling cap..." So, perhaps it was not a great leap to a deerstalker, although that is a harder sort of hat, rather than a soft cap.

The new Sherlock TV series has made me revisit the stories with great pleasure. Is there any basis for making him out a modern man, or at least one ahead of his time? He certainly uses all the latest science available, at least if it is relevant to his interests. He has a subversive or transgressive streak and is heartless in his treatment of a female servant in Charles Augustus Milverton, in a similar way to Sherlock's treatment of the Irish PA in the TV series. And his (or Doyle's) language sometimes has a contemporary feel. I have already noted free play with ungradable adjectives, as in "very unique". Other usages which are now thought of as modern horrors are also in evidence, "past history", for example.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Muphry typos?

Is there a special name for typos in a post about correcting typos in the previous post?

Do do don't dey doh?

 Just typed "do do" for "do so" in my last Sherlock post. Makes me think of the Scousers in Harry Enfield's  TV show (was it?) and their catchphrase: "Dey do, doh, don't dey doh?"

Quite right, Sherlock

 Just re-reading the first Sherlock story, "A Study in Scarlet" (first published by Ward Lock in 1887), prompted to do so by the new, third series of "Sherlock" on BBC1. "The Sign of Four" was wittily alluded to in the second episode at Watson's wedding. Sherlock had deduced, before the doctor, that Mary was pregnant and vowed to be always there for "all three of you, sorry, both of you, miscounted!"

To return to the first story, in chapter three Sherlock asks Inspector Gregson if he has read the Van Jansen case of '34. "Read it up - you really should. There's nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before."

Often true in matters of language change, too, Holmes. Or, at least, most changes have been around longer than I first appreciate, as you showed me yesterday with your "very unique". And luckily there's always someone who can put me right  -  now through a science-fiction device called the iPad.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Maturin (slowly)

 I think that's enough on the introductory "so" but there is more to be said about what I think of as the Irish, or Hiberno-English (HibE) type. Patrick O'Brian, the English novelist (and lover of Ireland) provides many examples of this in the speech of Stephen Maturin, the Irish-Catalan surgeon, spy, zoologist, well, polymath(-ic?) co-hero. The period dialogue and dialects all seem perfect to me but I need to think about it and do some research. I must try not to bother @StanCarey too much, though he would know, so.  (Correct usage?)

So hwaet if it's been done already

 I've posted about "so" already, mainly about the introductory type. I speculated that it was often used by scientists (eg on "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg on BBC R4) to give the appearance of a connected, cohesive argument, even if it was (sometimes) the first answer that came to them, or even an irrelevant or new topic. This idea has rather been confirmed by this Slate podcast. It finishes with the suggestion that this use of introductory or sentence-initial "So" may have originated in Silicon Valley with computer programmers (not programers, surely, but why not, if the stress is on pro-?). Thanks again to the ever reliable and very well-informed @StanCarey for the link there. (Scaled back my fulsome praise.)

Very unique, Watson

  There's nothing you can blog (ok, post), that can't be blogged (posted).

I often think: "Why is no one else aware of these changes?" That's when I get bored or mystified looks from most people I know, including younger relatives.

So (or maybe I mean but) - then, as with my earlier post about "so", I often discover (usually as the result of links from the wonderful @StanCarey) that proper linguists have been discussing the word in question for years and that there are several research posts at US universities entirely devoted to it - maybe I exaggerate, but only slightly.

Anyway, amidst all the Sherlock mania, has anyone else noticed this quote from "The Norwood Builder" (published, according to my Penguin edition, in 1905)?

'"There are really several very unique features about this case, Watson," said he.'

Ok, nothing new there, then - or ahead of his time, if you prefer?