Wednesday, 16 December 2020

A sorry tale

 I have just discovered Americast and am slowly working through back-numbers...

<tangent type="suppressed">
(There's a crossword clue there, something about  epidurals [GEDDIT?] – no time now though.)
... (which are notable for the outrageous flirting that goes on between Emily Maitlis...

<tangent type ="spellchecker">
Sure you don't mean mantillas?
and Jon Sopel [who is old enough to know better]). I've just reached one that starts off with an apology. Reflecting on this, Emily Maitlis uses the phrase "Dominic Cummings's mantra 'Never apologize, never explain'".

De mortuis ...

<tangent type="no such luck">
(but let us rejoice that the Poundland Rasputin has been turned out of the corridors of power )
...nil nisi bonum (and I've never been a fan of that use of mantra, so my knee-jerk reaction [How very dare she suggest he was the first to say it?] was possibly a little intemperate: she probably didn't mean to imply that anyway).

But it took me back to the  first time I heard it...

<autobiographical_note FX="harp music to mark reminiscence">
In 1980, one of my first jobs at OUP was to read the page-proofs of Patrick Devlin‘s The Judge (long out of print, or  ‘exhausted‘ as  they say  in Spain, as is the author  [RIP]). My boss (if that‘s the word) was a great cultivator of authors, mentioned (here).

... A recent edition of Great Lives started with Matthew Parris asking 'Why hadn't I heard of him before?' Well I had, by chance. During my brief stay at OUP in and around 1980, my friend and mentor Richard Brain (sadly no longer with us) edited a book about the extraordinary Muir of Huntershill, and as his assistant I had some dealings with it (not as many as I should have, as Richard – for all his many talents – was not terribly good at delegating, but the author was a personal friend).
So I didn‘t see much of Patrick Devlin (who Richard would have preferred to credit as Lord but the great man would have no such thing). The last time I saw him was  just after publication. when I admitted to having let slip a very obvious error. The typesetters had lost a whole line. missing out the end of one of one long and abstract sentence and the beginning of the next, leaving a string of words that was unusually long even for the noble Lord but without any of the  satisfaction of a peak well-scaled on reaching the bourn of a full-stop. I admitted it not by way of apology, although one was due (it was a case not so much of Homer nodding as of Homer nodding OFF). With unfounded optimism I was thinking in terms of an erratum slip in a reprint, or even a corrected paperback edition.

What he said was "Never apologize, never explain, never make the same mistake twice", which seemed to me to have the resonance of a Quotable Quote, possibly from somewhere like Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son. But I haven't been able to find it quoted anywhere; the nearest I get is that old stick GBS saying "I never explain" – which can hardly be regarded as the seed for Lord Devlin's tripartite advice. Perhaps Lord Devlin, after a lifetime of rhetoric, knew the rule of three and rounded off the rather banal "Never apologize, never explain" with his own rhetorical flourish.
And I've just realized he was talking to me, rather than saying what he would do if anyone noticed. DOH.  :-) (I'd make this an emoji, but Blogger seems to insist that the first image in a post must become the icon [in, for example, social media].)

Emily Maitlis reported (in the most recent edition I've heard, which dates back to the days when – would you believe it? – Trump  was still  crying Foul) that she had been told that the latest casualty from the Mad Hatter's Te er... Trump Cabinet had been sacked because he drafted a concession speech – or some such  adult admission of reality. What seems to be happening is that a depressingly large majority of Republicans have hold of a tiger by the tail and daren't let go for fear of the teeth at the other end. The sorry spectacle is a 21st-century version of The Emperor's New ClothesThe President's Second Term.


And my almost-unnoticed Word of the Year  is "rollout" and its associated phrasal verb "roll out". Etymonline dates it to 1957, which makes it fairly old but coined in my lifetime: when I was knee-high to a grown-up. I met it in what must have been one of its first outings, at the rollout of the Vulcan at the Farnborough AirShow (though in my experience of English engineers they have an extreme ...
(some would say pathological)
...sensitivity to perceived Americanisms, so it probably didn't appear ... 
(so much for that memory)
<INLINE_PS> the sales bumf at the time). And it transferred by a gentle extension from the aeronautical usage to motor shows, when a car that wasn't fully developed (maybe it had no engine) was rolled out onto the showroom floor.

Then marketeers  got their greedy little neologizing teeth into it, and any product was fair game for a "rollout". In nearly twenty years of writing for a US-based multinational I became inured to the idea of more-or-less anything  being rolled out.

But it really came into its own in 2020. PPE is rolled out, Test and Trace is rolled out, vaccination is rolled out.... It didn't make the OED's Words of the Year, but it must have come fairly close.

Update 2020.12.20.13:35 – Added <INLINE_PS>s

No comments:

Post a Comment