Friday, 4 September 2015

Water, water everywhere

<plug object="choral concert">
Tonight – or,  by the time I hit the Submit button, last night, probably – my choir will start rehearsals for its first concert of the new term, when we'll be singing Elijah. When this was first suggested I thought I could use my secondhand copy of the score. The choir's instructions were
I think those of you who have a previous Novello version of the Elijah score may be able to use it ...
My old copy of Elijah,
alongside the 1957 programme
But as my previous edition's original sale price had been 7s. 0d. I thought I'd better use a new score. I'm quite attached to my old score though. Its previous owner, who sang with South Chiltern Choral Society, (and who I suspect was a language teacher, because he used my trick of using IPA symbols to make pronunciation notes) had kept the programme from their concert in 1957:

  Anyway, if it's as good as our our last Elijah over 10 years ago...
Elijah is a work of enormous excitement and dramatic force....The response of the chorus to their self-inflicted woes [BK not WCS's; the Israelites'] captured every nuance of their emotional turmoil and the semi-chorus sang with winsome sensitivity.)
Wokingham Times, April 2005'll be a perfect way to spend a winter's evening at the Great Hall Reading.
But what has this to do with  water (mentioned in the subject line)? Well those self-inflicted woes all stem from a drought:
...there shall not be dew nor rain these years, there shall not be dew nor rain  but according to my word.
(note cursey typeface)
Be that as it may, water – specifically water-based metaphors – has been on my mind. And drought is a good point de départ. When a source of something (there's another: a source is a spring – the watery kind ) runs low it dries up, or dwindles to a trickle. (on reflection, I suppose I could probably also have highlighted RUNS LOW; the low could refer to the level of a liquid in a container). And when a speaker loses their flow ...
<digression theme="fluency">
On the subject of flow, I am often asked – as a speaker of more than one language – if I'm "fluent in X". When you're fluent in a language words flow (without apparent reflection) from your mouth. "Am I fluent in X?" Hell, I'm not even fluent in English (although I am, as they say,  a 'native speaker'.)
Stephen Fry, in the last edition of Fry's English Delight, distinguished between early and late bilinguals – a distinction I'm not sure about. For me, to be  bilingual a child has to be raised in a household where two languages are naturally spoken.  A man who, in later life, made a point of learning (not acquiring, to use the linguistics word for what a child does) Yiddish  (this was one of the examples given) is not, by my lights, bilingual. Maybe my lights are on the blink though. Maybe...
In my youth I was a social contact (and colleague of sorts) of Michael Portillo, erstwhile Cabinet Minister (and now sporter of multifarious jackets on a television near you). His father was Spanish. His Spanish was very good. In 1971, in Madrid, I met his cousin – who agreed; but, she added, 'habla como un libro'  ['like a book']. Maybe this wasn't original; maybe it's a traditional family description, but I give her as the source because she it was who said it to me. 
Does this make him bilingual? (Of course, he may be, depending on the linguistic environment he grew up in). 
... their speech dries up, just as an actor may simply dry.

So much for speech; many water-related metaphors relate also to immersion (which itself is probably one... yup). If you're on uncertain ground (whoops: mixed metaphor warning) you're out of your depth; and maybe there are things going on under the surfacestill waters run deep. You need to keep your head above water. And if you go against prevailing attitudes you swim against the tide; if you change your mind you row back, or in some circles (the sort where a lazy person rests on his oars, or doesn't pull his weight), you back-water ("backwater" does duty in another metaphorical sense with regard to a place where nothing much happens [oh yes, my use/non-use of hyphens is both intentional and deliberate (and if you think that's pleonastic, look 'em up)]. Or you could just go with the flow.

The word immersion itself suggests another metaphor, about language learning  – another source of watery metaphors: students acquiring vocabulary by osmosis, teachers drip-feeding information. And not just language-learning;  skills and information may leak from other disciplines. I'm sure many more such examples will come to me.

But I have other fish to fry. Before I go though, I'll share a thought I've had about bascule bridges. (That gear-change could have been smoother [via water ⇒ river ⇒ bridge], but this isn't The One Show.) Since seeing the hydraulic mechanisms that make Tower Bridge work, I no longer see it as two arms waving up and down but as a pair of asymmetrical see-saws, with their longer arms meeting, Each longer arm (half the roadway) tips up as water slooshes into the arm you can't see.
<digression theme="tai chi, nothing if not eclectic">
I use this image to reinforce the idea of weight draining from one leg into the other, so that upward movement doesn't involve muscular effort (in the rising leg).
And where does this fit in, metaphor-wise? Well the French for see-saw (American teeter-totter) is une bascule.


PS: Here's a clue:
Thinker about body. (7)

Update: 2015.09.05.12:30  – Added picture, and fixed a rogue its (sorry about that,  it's not that difficult, I know, but I'm always doing it).

Update: 2015. – Added this PPS:

PPS Here's another water-based metaphor – not a current one, but still striking. Not having read Strait is the gate I don't know how – or whether – it survives translation [come to think of it, it's so striking that any translator must surely have kept it in] but La Porte Étroite includes this image. A person who has been blind from birth imagines birdsong as the sound of the environment [horrid over-functional word, but I don't have the text in front of me – the air? the world? boiling with joy and excitement.

Update: 2015. – Added this PPPS:

And, on  the subject of boiling, I happened on this one this morning...
...while doing today‘s Polygon in The Times.
Ebullience. As Etymonline says,
 ...from Latin ebullientem (nominative ebulliens) "a boiling, a bursting forth, overflow," present participle of "to boil over"...
More here from Etymonline .

Update: 2017. – Deleted old footer.

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