Friday, 29 April 2011

Big Nuptials

"Nuptial" can mean relating to marriage or weddings, but in zoology it refers to the characteristic breeding behaviour, coloration, or structures of some animals, e.g. nuptial plumage. There was a great deal of that on the women in the Abbey this morning and some little fellows like Rowan Atkinson and Elton John had to stand on tippy toes to find their way through the throng.

The big news of the day was, of course, Nepalese choir go missing after landing at Heathrow; immigration officials were investigating whether the group had absconded or simply decided to give the Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival a miss.

But I am joking. That event was momentous enough, but, except in Cornwall, of little importance compared with the royal wedding—sorry, Royal Wedding—which was going to be watched on TV, so they told us this morning, by two billion people, only half a billion less than the number who watched the funeral of a dodgy Egyptian playboy's mistress in 1997.

There were many moments and sights to treasure: the man opening the offside door of the grandparent's car when it arrived at the Abbey and holding it open while standing smartly at the salute as they both got out of the other side was a splendid bit of knockabout humour, and there was much quiet enjoyment to be had from noting the soppiness of most of the hats and some of the get-ups; those of Prince Andrew's daughters, for example, were hugely comic. It must be said, though, that the top echelon of male participants looked terrific in their military finery with gold decorative bits dangling all over them, and the Dean's golden robe was a dream, making the Primate of All England look positively dowdy.

Nuptials, 1902 state Landau, jingling escorts, kiss-kiss, surging crowds, flypast, don't we do these things well? Those Americans who have heard of Great Britain are consumed with envy. Anyway, it's all over: Nicholas Witchell, Huw Edwards and the rest of the commentators and royal correspondents—sorry, Royal Correspondents—can now get up off their knees.

The noisome Earl Spencer said afterwards that it was a jolly good show but a pity that Diana wasn't there.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Playing Mummies and Daddies

Feature article on page 12 of the Sunday Times, April 10th 2011:
"...research found that 88% of parents feared that children were under pressure to grow up too quickly, with concern about adult behaviour where children do not realise what they are doing... fears about children acting older than their age have been heightened ..."

Article in the same edition of the same rubbish newspaper, page 3:
This is three-quarters of a page under the headline "Playground princes get their big day", with two photos of small children. One shows a pair in wedding dress walking down the aisle of a church, the other has a little boy in military uniform and a little girl with veil and a froth of pink and white. The article drools on about the news that "Primary schools across the country [100 of them, apparently] are ringing wedding bells, with pupils playing the roles of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The boys and girls will be blessed by local vicars, sometimes dressed as the Archbishop of Canterbury, at pretend services in parish churches...".

At a school in Staffordshire the deputy head reported that "Each of the children designed 10 top honeymoon destinations for William and Kate...", but amid all this drivel there is a refreshing note of sanity: each of the children has "... sent a letter to Kate warning her to think carefully about marrying into the royal family".

There has been no mention of pretend honeymoons to follow the pretend weddings, but the Sunday Times article thoughtfully tells us that "the ceremonies are naturally on a smaller scale than the real thing on April 29th" and presumably this will apply to the honeymoons too; behind the bike sheds would be traditional, but not many schools have these nowadays.

And I suppose they don't do pretend divorces until the sixth form. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Weasel words

"I'm sorry if what I'm setting out to do hasn't communicated itself...Listening to the vote this morning, if I've not got that message across then I apologise."

Andrew Lansley's words, reported last week as "an abject apology", were nothing of the kind, for three reasons:

First, I'm sorry is rarely an apology; usually it is an expression of regret for something for which the speaker bears no trace of responsibility: I'm sorry to hear your grandmother's got piles. Second, use of the conditional if, twice, suggests that it is by no means certain that there is anything to apologise for. Finally, switching to the passive hasn't communicated itself lets the speaker out: if you didn't get it, that was your fault or the message's, not mine.

He could have made an apology which really meant something: I now realise that my proposals for the NHS were ill-considered and likely to harm the NHS irrevocably, and that I failed to explain them clearly and honestly. For these things, and my general incompetence, I apologise.

Fat chance.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Reverse crusade

Interesting to see that Gbagbo and his forces of the Ivory Coast Christian south have been finally beaten by the forces of the Muslim north and the French. Apparently his only allies in the world were the American Christian evangelists, who admired him greatly and believed he had really won the election.

Nice to know, too, that the graffiti artist Banksy Moon gave his support to the right side.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Allegro ma non troppo

If I have any kind of individual writing style then it is a careless blend of the highfalutin' and the demotic or even racy; in other words, people may need a dictionary for one sentence and are offended by the coarseness of the next. This means that am often taken to task for faults in my writing, being condemned either for pretentiousness or crudity.

The atmosphere during many a convivial evening at Reginald's has become ill-natured or even violent when I have been forced to defend myself against attacks by Grumio or other soi-disant linguistic experts expressing their contempt for some trivial syntactical or stylistic error in something I have published.

Nearly always these strictures are totally unjustified; a typical example is the criticism of my excessive use of "selah", on the grounds that I do not actually know what the word means. This is unfair: if we all restricted our vocabulary to words of which we fully comprehend the meaning then discourse would be stifled and politicians, for example, would have to remain permanently mumchance (a pleasing prospect).

Anyway, in the case of "selah", there is every excuse for not knowing the meaning, for no-one really does. The Oxford Dictionary has:    

selah, exclamation
(in the Bible) occurring frequently at the end of a verse in Psalms and Habakkuk, probably as a musical direction.

This is not much help and is probably wrong: musical directions are not exclamations. So never mind what Habbakuk meant, I use it to mean any one of a number of things, for example: amen; what d'you think of that?; so there!; you know I'm right; QED; here endeth the lesson, or whatever.


[The title of this post really is a musical direction and has an interesting story behind it.] 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Cops and Rozzers

We like naming things, so much so that a multilingual glossary of some groups of names would be a hefty volume.

Take insects, for example; in hundreds of years entomologists have already named millions of the little chaps, but there may still be many whole species which remain anonymous. Then there are our naughty bits: there are thousands of terms for these—technical, demotic or vulgar—although those in the last group are never uttered in polite society; any English translation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel will contain several hundred names for the items relevant to both genders.

A similar restriction applies to deities, many of whom are said to wax exceeding wrathful if their name, or one of their many names, is actually spoken. An extreme case of such divine paranoia is described by Arthur C Clarke in The Nine Billion Names of God, but I will not reveal the appalling punishment meted out if anyone lists these, for that would spoil the enjoyment of those who have never read this classic 1953 short story.

Police officers are another group bearing many names; a few are affectionate, most are insulting; Wikipedia lists two hundred of them. Inexplicably, a disproportionate number seem to originate in Turkey, such as this one:
The most common slang word to address a police officer in Turkish. The word literally means "mirrorless", and its attribution to a police officer suggests that a cop is perceived as someone who constantly accuses others of vice, whereas he himself has no mirror to see his own vice. It is the semi-official equivalent of the English word "pig" (only when used to refer to the police), and commonly used when translating English-spoken movies into Turkish. Pronunciation is roughly I-nuh-suzz. (Plural: Aynasızlar)

Few of the terms Wikipedia lists are as sophisticated as that. Most are rather dull:
Hot Dogs
a Chinese term referring to stationary traffic cops and guards who are standing in the sun all day.
Swedish slang term for the police. Originally an old Swedish word for devil, from Romani Beng with the same meaning.