Friday, 22 December 2017

Be'ind the harras

My attention to words that include the string *AR* has brought to my attention (not that it was ever totally unfocused, rather that I now have done a bit of relevant browsing  in dictionaries) a word (or group of associated words) that points to an ongoing change in pronunciation. And there is a coincidental surge in that word's frequency of use, starting with Harvey Weinstein  and ending (for the time being, though the boor is always with us) with Damian Green. No prizes for guessing that the mot du jour is  harass.

The dictionary I use for my daily grind (the Sisyphean sonorants book) is the Macmillan English Dictionary  (more by historical accident than for any actual preference. It is happy to recognize two stress patterns for this word, both with British English vowels and with American English vowels:

And the Cambridge English Dictionary is equally accommodating, although it gives only two audio examples:

And the two audio snippets are in line with the (mistaken)  view that stress on the second syllable is in some sense American: the "UK" one is is /'hærǝs/; the "US" one is /hǝ'ræs/.

The Oxford Dictionaries site goes one step further, favouring (in its order – which echoes the order that the Cambridge English Dictionary specifies for the US pronunciations) the version with iambic stress (dit-dah):

On the page that calls up a specifically US definition, the same site points to the move:

(Note that this is on the Amercan English site: the prejudice against the iambic stress is felt on both sides of the Atlantic.)

I remember a note in a VIth form text book that said that Shakespeare stressed the word aspect iambically.  I imagine this would be confirmed in David Crystal's The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation.

I wonder if that's the way harass is going (though in reverse: aspect => aspect, but harass => harass).

But we are in the twilight world in the midst of the change, so that in a single TV interview (which I can't track down right now, but which I heard yesterday, honest) the two stresses are both used: Kate Maltby says /'hærǝs/ while Laura Kuenssberg says /hǝ'ræs/.

But in the words of Tom Lehrer, Christmas time is here by golly. Gorra go.

PS: Some clues:
  • In disarray, she'll claim me a famous introduction. (4, 2, 7)
  • After Tom Jones, trifled (with emotions, perhaps). (7)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Far brighter than that gaudy...

LED luminaire. The little children's dower, in this case, is the traditional Christmas lights.

Traditional – there's a Christmassy word: trahe me post te, as the carol goes. I'm sure when people first used electric bulbs to light their trees, traditionalists mourned the gentler light of candles: to quote Gob (my one-time history master [introduced here] "semi-affectionately known as 'Gob' for reasons best known to his Maker (presumably not omniscient in matters of orthodontics)")
Be not the first
On whom the new is tried

Nor be the last
To cast the old aside

Maybe the quote isn't original, but I have always associated it with him.

Which is all very well. But LED lights, while environmentally more responsible than the incandescent Edisonian bulbs, and physically more efficient, are a bit too brash for my taste. I've lived with them for three days now, but I'm sure three weeks will test my patience to breaking point.

But my main focus at the moment – and the reason  for keeping this post shorter than usual – is Saturday's concert, which should be really good. At a time of year that's often characterized by wall-to-wall carols, a bit of Bach offers a welcome auditory oasis.

Music dotted with repeats, and with the normal two lines of text (one German and one English) becoming four (with the German even further from the notes than usual), though, calls for learning by heart  – which I must go and do now.

(Afterthought: And the text of the first line [when there's a repeat], is bound to become more familiar, through rehearsal, than the text of the second. So there's more than the usual risk of my resorting to mime. Here goes with that rote learning... :-)


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Beating the retweet

A while ago I learnt an important lesson: Retweet in haste, repent at leisure.
When I was working as a research assistant on  the 3rd edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (or "ODQ3" as it was known to the cognoscenti), I found this oft-quoted tag [with "marry" as the first word, as here], with a typo in the Stevenson Home Book of <whatever>:  Marry in haste, repeat at leisure.
I blogged about it here. To give an idea of what I was regretting, here's the first para:
A few days ago, I saw and retweeted (from the hip – will I never learn?) this:

It's making a good point. Government priorities are wrong-headed in a way that in less socially pregnant contexts would be laughable.  Stopping tax avoidance and evasion is the LOW-HANGING FRUIT – easy wins for a Chancellor needing to save a billion or two.
But, although I approved of the message  I didn't endorse the medium – which used a misleading infographic.  That post examines how,

But freedom of speech does not imply the freedom to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre (which was once illegal in the USA, but is now just wrong), or to spread fake news. Which leads me to the retweet [that's a rather long but well-researched BuzzFeed piece that goes into the Frankenstein's monster-like construction of a particularly noxious fiction] recently posted by Donald Oh-God-What-NOW? Trump. [Come to think of it, I should specify: he gave Britain First millions of dollars' worth of free publicity {he has 43.6 million Twitter followers} – on 29 November 2017;  by the time you read this, Heaven knows what else he may have done]. Here's a taste:
President Trump on Wednesday retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy leader of the far-right British political party Britain First — drawing criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and dragging Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric back into the spotlight in the US.

At least one of the videos, which originated in the Netherlands, was debunked. It drew a rebuke from the embassy.

The videos, which Trump retweeted from Jayda Fransen, are captioned "Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!", "Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!", and "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!"

"It is wrong for the president to have done this," a spokesperson for May said, amid universal condemnation from politicians and groups in both the UK and US.

Speaking of which I'm reminded of another notorious retweet, which started with a single instance of panic reflected in Olly Murs's tweet posted a few days before Trump's. The Daily Mirror reported it thus:

But the Mirror must have captured a tweet from that arch-spermologer ...
OK, this a rather creative reuse of a nearly-extinct word, once applied to that other spreader of news, St Paul.
....Olly Murs quite early in its life; it was retweeted nearly ten times that "507" (and while we're about it, you may feel a pang of regret at the decline of punctuation standards – as typed, that expletive greyed out by the Mirror has "everyone" as its direct object; not to mention the syntax-free (meaning-free?) "@Selfridges now gun shots".

L'Envoi [because I gotta go]

By retweeting something it seems to me that to some extent you are endorsing it. You are at least morally liable for any battle, murder, and sudden death arising.


PS And here are some clues:
  • Pale surround for good person – advocate. (9)
  • Minder with boundary issues commits libel (which can't be expunged). (9)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Some thoughts

This rant has been bubbling away for a few weeks, ever since Priti Patel's "fulsome apology":

As so often after the breaking of an imagined "rule", this was followed by a Twitterstorm. These snapshots give a taste:

The BBC, to my relief, were a little more measured, allowing themselves a couple of diffident question marks.

(But they still used the loaded phrase "the official definition". For pity's sake, there ISN'T one )
In the #WATO programme that examined the issue  Martha Kearney exemplified this well-meaning misprision...
"Tee hee hee, doesn't he mean misapprehension?" hoot the monolexicopaths (OK, I did make that one up) "Misprision means 'wrong action, a failure on the part of authority, early 15c.' [Etymonline], and Ms Kearney certainly did nothing wrong." Well I have chosen to use it to mean failure to grasp (which, incidentally, I have just realized, may well underly Wilde's choice of name for Miss Prism).
 ... by saying that "you and I" as an object phrase is "incorrect" (and was quickly slapped down by Oliver Kamm). And Kamm, at  the beginning of the piece, responds to the ubiquitous official definition Shibboleth: "There is no central arbiter of what words mean, they are part of a social contract between the utterer and the hearer or the writer and the reader." Humpty-Dumpty was right (though on the extreme right, where misunderstandings are likely to occur).

One good thing that came out of the kerfuffle was this idea:

which was taken up the next day by Wayne Myers in this tweet (and youTube posting).

The British National Corpus, for what it's worth, records "fulsome apologies" as the 5th most common "fulsome + <noun>"  collocation; COCA has many more, but neither apology nor apologies. I wonder if this suggests that our Amerucan cousins are less tolerant of this usage....
Enough of the rant . Another thing that came of the Twitterstorm was my thinking more about -some words. Etymonline has this to say:

-some (1)

word-forming element used in making adjectives from nouns or adjectives (and sometimes verbs) and meaning "tending to; causing; to a considerable degree," from Old English -sum, identical with some, from PIE root *sem- (1) "one; as one, together with." Cognate with Old Frisian -sum, German -sam, Old Norse -samr; also related to same.

Nouns include these:
adventuresome, awesome, bothersome, burdensome, fearsome, frolicsome, handsome, mettlesome, nettlesome, noisome, quarrelsome, toothsome, troublesome, venturesome, winsome. 
The relationship between the noun and -some is not predictable (as often happens when words come together: crocodile shoes are made from part of a crocodile, but crocodile tears aren't). And the other thing that leaps out is that  they often hold fossils of words that no longer have a free-standing life in their own rite: what is a noi or a win? The Etymoline entries for noisome and winsome explain.

Adjectives include these:
darksome, fulsome, gladsome, lissome/lithesome,  lonesome, wearisome, wholesome/halesome
I put halesome on the end there as I first met this dialect word in a song I sang at primary school:

Buy ma caller herrin
They're bonny fish and halesome farin

Halesome is to wholesome as hale (now preserved chiefly in the phrase hale and hearty) is to whole. Health comes into it as well. Healing is making whole.
One site I visited to find this song introduces an interesting typo: halesome sarin . Sarin can be called many things, but halesome is not one of them.
I'm not sure why Etymonline includes verb as a parenthetical afterthought:  "element used in making adjectives from nouns or adjectives (and sometimes verbs)".
buxom, cumbersome, irksome, loathsome, meddlesome,  tiresome, worrisome
In any case "More or less any noun can be verbed" (as wossname said – Mark Twain?..); so my putting trouble-some among the nouns and worr[y]-some among the verbs is arbitrary.

Again, there are fossils: things don't cumber much nowadays (in fact I wasn't sure at first what part of speech it was). And in the case of buxom, some spelling changes have tried to cover its tracks. The first part of buxom shares its derivation with the bendy sort of bow; and indeed with elbow. It originally meant something like pliable. It would be neat to say that buxom simply means curvaceous, but that would be an oversimplification. To quote Etymonline:
The meaning progressed from "compliant, obliging," through "lively, jolly," "healthily plump, vigorous and attractive," to (in women, and perhaps influenced by lusty) "attractively plump, comely" (1580s). In Johnson [1755] the primary meaning still is "obedient, obsequious." It was used especially of women's figures from at least 1870s...
But enough of this. SOME things are beyond me.

PS: A couple of clues:
  • Top dog – a rapper detox, reformed. (4,8)
  • Measure up for inclusion in modification – tricky. (11)
Update: 2017.12.01 – Added PPS

Inspired by Etymonline's 'meaning "tending to; causing; to a considerable degree"' I started to make a Venn diagram showing overlapping shades of meaning (which could be seen as not fitting in with my opening rant –  only the meanings I'm toying with are more in a spirit of description rather than of proescription). But I'm not satisfied with the result: I ended up just chasing words from one category to another (and speculating on the usefulness or otherwise of a three-dimensional Venn diagram). Still, here it is:

Update: 2017.12.06 – Fixed typo (although proscription and prescription tend to go together in the same minds).

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Placebo - you will, eh?

“Italy, this is the apocalypse,” was the headline in the country’s leading sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday morning [14 Nov.], perhaps an understandable reaction for a nation whose passion for football is so great that the same publication concluded that “a love so great must be reserved for other things [than the World Cup]”. 
La Gazzetta dello Sport, as quoted in the Guardian
Which reminds me of the word gazette's derivation;  to quote Etymonline
"newspaper," c. 1600, from French 
gazette (16c.), from Italian gazzetta, Venetian dialectal gazeta "newspaper," also the name of a small copper coin, literally "little magpie," from gazza; applied to the monthly newspaper (gazeta de la novità) published in Venice by the government, either from its price or its association with the bird (typical of false chatter),
Or both, I would surmise. I can imagine some Venetian satirist greeting the first edition of the gazeta de la novità making a punning reference not only to its price but also to its vapidness.
Which  seems a strangely prescient reference to Twitter. :-) Anyway;  football...

In January 2011, Science Daily reported a Mumbai study:
According to recent research the color, shape, taste and even name of a tablet or pill can have an effect on how patients feel about their medication. Choose an appropriate combination and the placebo effect gives the pill a boost, improves outcomes and might even reduce side effects. Now, researchers at the University of Bombay, New Mumbai, India, have surveyed users of over-the-counter (OTC) medication to find out just how much the color of a tablet influences patient choice.     
Football.... I'm getting there. Stay with me: 

Three years later, The Atlantic  reported
...Blue pills, contrary to what Breaking Bad may have you believe, act best as sedatives.... 
When researchers take culture into account, things get a bit more complicated. For instance, the sedative power of blue doesn’t work on Italian men. The scientists who discovered this anomaly think it’s due to ‘gli Azzuri’ (the Blues), Italy’s national soccer team—because they associate the color blue with the drama of a match, it actually gets their adrenaline pumping
But this was not a novel  phenomenon. The sedative effect of blue in particular was reported in The Lancet in 1972. (The Placebo Effect, in general, of course, had already  been in regular use by shamans and witch-doctors and faith healers for thousands of years.)

A recent Radiolab programme on Radio 4 Extra brought this to  my attention;
18 minutes into the piece,  this blue/sedative correspondence is discussed. I have to admit that I took agin the interviewee, possibly because he gave gli Azurri a /ʒ/, no doubt because of what we call in the trade L1-interference: he transferred the /ʒ/ of his English "azure " to the unsuspecting (and undeserving) Italian word. But what aggravated my response to this minor barbarism was his arrogating to himself this observation. When asked what causes this he says "Well, I'm not really sure [sic – his emphasis] but my speculation is...[Azurri idea]". By "my speculation", of course, he means "the speculation of the authors of a research paper  written when I was still wet behind the ears".

But what may indeed be his speculation is the unnecessary and irrelevant gilding of the lily; Italian women aren't affected because of their devotion to the Virgin Mary, who is traditionally depicted in blue, so it makes Italian women feel calm...

WHA...? Millions of women in Catholic countries supposedly have this same association; so why should the Italians be any different?..
That claim was made over a background that featured a recording of Ave Maria [Schubert‘s], which reminded me of a recent ad I heard for Aled Jones's latest album, which has him singing both with his son and with his younger self. And in the words Pleni sunt coeli et terra Ave Maria, gratia plena I noticed with grim resignation  that the successful present-day tenor has lapsed into the lazy /eɪ/  diphthong in both the first and the thirdfourth words, in regrettable contrast to his younger self (with the choir master's voice no doubt still ringing in his ears) singing a pure monophthong.
Maybe, because Italian society is painfully patriarchal (with women doing the cleaning and cooking and washing and child-rearing while their menfolk slump in front of the football) they just don't have the time to be that bothered about gli Azurri.

But if women all over the world are affected in the same way by the colour of tranquilizers, why bring the Virgin Mary into it at all? Besides, I'm not sure I buy the whole football thing. Are French fans any less fanatical about their support for les Bleus? Still, it's interesting.

And the Italians (not sure it's just the men) are certainly... distraught [I don't think  that's an overstatement] about the exit of lgi Azurri from the World Cup  Blexit?

  • Showing concern about lines of communication, and getting tooled up. (8)(This was a duplicate.)
  • Speed about Britain, achieving fame (9)
  • Set a trap with son for performers of fandango or tarantella?. (9)
Update: 2017.11.16.22:35 – Specified the composer of that Ave Maria setting.

Update: 2017.11.19.11:25 – Fixed quote (wrong prayer)

Update: 2017.11.21.10:45 – Added PS

PS In defence of the subject line:

I've always wondered about the word placebo

For the non-Latinists, it means "I shall be pleasing [to]".  OK, all a placebo does is give the impression of  treatment, and to that extent it can be seen as pleasing in some sense. But why bring the first person into it? It reminds me of a bus I once saw bearing the sign "Sorry, I'm not in service!" "WTF...?" I thought (anachronistically – as that abbreviation probably hadn't yet been invented [it was in the mid-'60s]) "What are you, Bertie the Bus?"
No, it can't have been as a matter of fact. (The Rev'd W. Awdry's) Bertie was a single-decker.  And the miscreant I remembered was a Routemaster.
London Transport (as was) soon learnt their lesson, and I never saw this gratuitous personification again (on buses, at least). But I regret I have seen it on an estate agent's (realtor's...
I find it interesting that the Land of the Free insists on preserving this [usually unknowing, I imagine] etymological hat-tip to royalty in the name of their land dealers.
...) sign: "I'm sold". And it is quite common on the packaging of the twee-er food products: example.
But why does placebo have to do this? I can't, off the top of my head, recall a similar use of the first-person in an etymological context.

Update: 2017.11.22.15:45 – Added PPS

I've been thinking about that last point: there are lots of third-person examples (different moods, voices, and aspects):
  • fiat, exeat, caveat ... (3ps subj.)
  • habitat, aegrotat, non sequitur,  exit, tenet ... (3ps indic.)
  • imprimatur...(3ps passive subj.)
(NB 'sequitur' may look passive, but it's not).

The only other first person example I've found so far is ignoramus (3pp) ["=" "we do not know"]

Update: 2017.11.26.10:45 –  Replaced duplicate clue (in text) and added to 3ps examples.

Monday, 13 November 2017

We need to talk about Kelvin

On Neil McPherson's WalkLiving with the Gods  [oops: Gods/dinosurs – easy mistake to  make] recently (not to suggest that he is an egregious source of things that make me wince – he's wise and thoughtful, and his series is well worth a listen [if not two]) – I heard an example of one of my most abhorred assumptions: that "Centigrade is always more".

In the world usually inhabited by most of us (in what is popularly referred to by the mealy-mouthed euphemism humankind)...
I‘m sorry about this. In the words mankind, womankind, etc... the  structure is  "<noun>+kind". I was mentally scarred by an English teacher who insisted that the word "human" was  an adjective: ‘If you mean "human being" SAY "human being"‘ he used to rant. I know this is rubbish; but I have drunk the Kool Aid. So whenever I see or hear the word "human"  my adjective-filter springs unbidden into action – I‘m not proud of it, but that‘s the way it is.
...there is a belief that, when talking about the weather, for a given value, Centigrade denotes a more extreme temperature than Fahrenheit – so that the word Centigrade is often used as a reinforcer: "They have to survive in temperatures of 50 or 60 °Centigrade..."  (Gosh, how hot is that?), or "Temperatures commonly reach -20 °Centigrade (Cold or what?).

In the case of weather, in contexts likely to be met by human observers, the rule of thumb Centigrade means more extreme works more often than not.  But we all know (or most us do, anyway) that something happens at -40 °C or F, which inverts the hyperbole: "Temperatures commonly reach -50 °Fahrenheit (Cold or what?) (Just to be clear, -50 deg. Celsius is -58 deg. Fahrenheit.)

In any case, though, (and perhaps in Neil McPherson‘s), the word "Centigrade" may be justified on the grounds that it's just informative and doesn't express any sense of hyperbole. I suspect, though, that anyone doing no more than conveying information would tend to say "Celsius" rather than "Centigrade". So when he said "temperatures below -50 degrees Centigrade are common" I thought the worst.

Anyway, time's wingéd chariot is doing its usual trick. Having sung to a ... not exactly packed church, though  pretty full, last Saturday, I must get learning the German for next month's concert:


PS And here are a couple more clues:
  • Lacedæmonii – (only the extremists) tear strips off, then set free. (8)
  • Showing concern about lines of communication, and getting tooled up. (8)

Update: 2017.11.14.10:30 – Corrected typo in line 1.

Saturday, 28 October 2017


Gregorio Allegri wrote his Miserere for the service of Tenebrae, to be performed in the Sistine Chapel. The service gets its name from the hour when it's sung – twilight – although the music itself is far from TENEBRAL.
Incidentally, I wonder whether the service of Tenebrae  was already commonly referred to as "Evensong" before the Reformation. I've just watched a fascinating programme on BBC Four: Lucy Worsley's Elizabeth I's Battle for God's Music, that detailed the invention of the service of Evensong based on John Merbecke's setting of the Book of Common Prayer (that's a gross [and possibly mistaken] over-simplification: it was all very confused).

But at the beginning of the programme (8 minutes in), she reads – and points out in the manuscript – an eye-witness account of the dissolution of the monastery of Evesham in 1539. And in that account the monk uses the term Evensong: 

I don't know enough about manuscripts to judge for certain whether  the E is capitalized: the first e of Evensong looks bigger than the second, but smaller than the E of Evesham (in the first hand-written line). It is clearly one word though – which suggests that it was a Thing.
There is a story about Mozart and the secretive Vatican rules that kept the music undocumented – protected, one might say, not so much by copyright but by papa-right.As Wikipedia says:
According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was visiting Rome when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Less than three months after hearing the song and transcribing it, Mozart had gained fame for the work and was summoned to Rome by Pope Clement XIV, who showered praise on him for his feat of musical genius and awarded him the Chivalric Order of the Golden Spur on July 4, 1770.
Various embellishments have been added;  "At some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music" as that article puts it; no wonder that page comes with the stern warning/plea:

The version I was sold at school was "it had never been written down, but Mozart's version, after a second visit to the Sistine Chapel was note-perfect".

Well... Let me just....hmm..? I'm sure Mozart's piece was wonderful, and his memory remarkably accurate. But, if nobody had written it down, how could anyone judge its accuracy? One could surely rely on the Vatican authorities to claim Mozart‘s version as their own.

I mention this piece because it will form part of our Remembrance Concert in two weeks.

But it is not the mainstay of the concert; that is the choral suite from  Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, which has most of the good bits from the work originally commissioned (Wikipedia again) the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, to mark the museum's move from London to Leeds
It was there (the Royal Armouries at Leeds) that I started one of my earlier posts. Strange how one keeps stubbing one's toe on these Aha moments. 
When we sang the whole piece some years ago, the only movement that struck me (apart from the choral suite, that is) was the song that gives the whole piece its name: L'homme armé.

Apart from this there are some lovely reflective pieces by composers  from Mendelssohn to Tavener, with many other gems  along the way.

Give it a go. Hurry, while stocks last.


PS Here are a couple more clues:
  • He improvised frantically, but without a bean.(12)
  • Causing a ruckus about tale I have first, making up the numbers for profit.(8, 10)
Update: 2017.10.30.16:45 – Added inline PS.

Update: 2017.10.31.12:05 – Added afterthought in red.

Update: 2017.11.07.10:55 – Added PPS.

Less than a week now to our next concert. One of the pieces on the programme that I haven't mentioned yet is In Paradisum from Fauré's Requiem. Some time ago, preparing to sing this piece, I wrote:
In can mean many things in Latin, but when followed by a noun in the accusative it doesn't mean 'in'. If the words were In Paradiso they would mean 'In Paradise'; but they are In Paradisum ... going on ...deducant Angeli : 'Angels will lead you into Paradise...' One of many other meanings of in, this time followed by the dative, is exemplified in the next phrase: in tuo adventu: that's closer to 'in' in meaning, with a sense something like 'on the occasion of', though I'd favour a simpler translation: 'When you arrive...'.
It is a lovely piece that  most people know, even if they can't place it. Knowing Lennon & McCartney's tendency to borrow from "classical" favourites (there are those metaphorical tweezers again – I'm seldom at ease with the phrase "classical music")...
It has been widely reported that the song Because was inspired by someone in the recording studio playing the easier bit of Moonlight Sonata.
</beatles_factoid> seems to me possible that the introductory bars (of In Paradisum) were at the back of someone's mind when they wrote the harp introduction to "She's Leaving Home".

Anyway, no time for more – I have words to learn for Saturday.


And here are three more clues:
  • A-courting we will go, in disarray, "Upon St Crispin‘s Day"?.(9)
  • Charm is a recipe for winning friends and influencing people.(8)
  • Reportedly misbehave at beginning of soirée, but be brilliant, (11)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The lesser of the two weevils

The Académie Française takes a dim view of écriture inclusive – the proposed script reform that attempts to make French gender-neutral in spite of itself. The Times last week referred to a "mid punctuation  point", a glyph that French keyboards are soon to include. And they gave as an example cher⋅es amies [HD: their impoverished fonts presumably don't go as far as an è]. You can sidestep the Infernal Firewall by looking at this Indie article.

Their one English academician, Sir Michael Edwards, calls the result "gibberish"  – missing the point rather  (écriture – the clue's in the name); I don't think the words with the mid punctuation point are supposed to be read aloud – any more than the solidus is supposed to be read aloud in our "his/her". It just lets the reader's mind skip over the gender variation without missing a beat. So when the university of Nancy addressed imminent graduates as Futur⋅es diplômé⋅es it was simply doing them the courtesy of accepting that they might be of either gender, rather than, as heretofore, even in a class of 99 diplômées and a single diplômé, addressing them all as men.
Perhaps those more sexist times should be evoked as "as himetofore". He is certainly to the fore.
One sententious self-important windbag, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, speaking on Europe 1 Radio, denounced it as "an attack on syntax by egalitarianism". 
Generally, I've noticed that people who complain about "an attack on <abstract_noun>" tend to be blowhards.
But language  is pretty insidious stuff. George Orwell (pace David Crystal, as I've said before) was right on the money when he warned about the influence of language on political power; Big Brother and Donald Trump have a lot in common: if something you want to be true isn't, say it is and keep saying it. If the existence of someone in history doesn't suit your politics, make them an unperson; people will stop talking about them if their identity has been erased... If you want to change a social reality, changing language is a good place to start.

And one system that has been thriving for millennia is the undervaluing and belittling of women. Which brings us to another topic (which turns out to be part of the same story). Harvey Weinstein got away with his pitiful predatory behaviour for so long because the system facilitated it; a pretty significant part of that system (hmm, "significant"... What would de Saussure have to say about that?) is language. If you want to excuse or ignore something, hide it behind a jokey euphemism, like 'casting couch', say. Many a protégée turns out to have been a victime. Disrespecting women ...
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn from Etymonline that "disrespect (v)" pre-dates "disrespect (n)":

1610s (v.), 1630s (n.), from dis- + respect. Related: Disrespected; disrespecting.
Just because I met the noun first, just because I heard the verb as a bit of a newcomer, I assumed the noun had greater "validity" in some way (not a way that a linguist should take any pride in). Of course, 20 years one way or the other in a word that goes back about 400 years is neither here nor there. But still...
</tangent> something that involves language, and the language of patriarchy (at best – a more appropriate word escapes me at the moment, that's the thing about something being unspeakable) underpins the male-dominated status quo, not only in La La Land but...well, just about everywhere.

And physical assault is just the tip of the iceberg the visible loathsomeness that is supported by a raft of tiny acts of disrespect. The other night I saw a repeat on BBC 4 of a programme made nearly ten years ago – a fascinating account of where we come from (<spoiler alert>: out of Africa) . Dr Alice Roberts was treated to this amazing exchange (about 16 minutes in to The Incredible Human Journey):
REWOP from The Incredible Human Journey
That's like a little spearhead.
Yes that's exactly what it is. We think it's actually the ... [looking for the right word, to avoid blowing her little mind with the AWESOMENESS of his findings]  ...TIP to a ...SPEAR.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive here; perhaps there was no slight. Almost certainly there was no slight intended. (They were two specialists, repeating something for the benefit of a less well-informed public.) But it just felt a pit patronizing to me.

It was 20-odd years ago that English-speaking female actors started to complain about the term actress. A Quora article, basing its conclusion on the Guardian's archives, said
In 1994, the word actress appears 1150 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 2418 times, so about 2:1.

In 2003 the word actress appears 1173 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 3948 times, so about 4:1. That dates the change to 10-20 years ago.
although AMPAS (as the Oscar-dispensing organization is called – not without irony ...impasse?)  has yet to catch up. But if actors in France want to be addressed as act⋅eur⋅rice⋅s what's the problem? OK, it looks a bit ugly; but there are worse things.


Update: 2017.10.17.15:50 – Added PS

PS – And here are a few clues:

  • I‘m muscular (or perhaps something like it). (10)
  • Editing...editing.., until smoke began to rise? (7)
  • Trees that bear fir cones. (8)

Update: 2017.12.31.15:35 – PPS added.

PPS: The answers: SIMULACRUM, IGNITED, and CONIFERS (which, last, may have taken as long as 5 μs to get).

Friday, 6 October 2017


In a choral singer's life, the pronunciation  of Latin is bound to become an issue. People learn one way in school, and can't help being infected. Fortunately, in the Venn diagram of my life,  Church Latin (which I started to ... enunciate at the age of about 7, as described here), school Latin (there are several of course, but mine was Church-Latin-speaking), and the Latin used in the study of Romance Philology (Vulgar Latin), all coincided.

I can't claim to know the whole story, but there are at least four gross variants – old and new Classical systems, Church Latin, and Germanic or continental Latin; there are probably more. And these are further compounded by  national phonemic peculiarities (sounds that are excluded – made effectively unpronounceable – as a necessary part of the acquisition of a mother tongue) such as those I mentioned here.

I  discussed one of the many problems arising from this clash of pronunciation regimes here. But in this post I want to talk about an old system that has almost died out but was once widely taught both in the UK and of course in many schools around the world in the British Empire (ensuring that the colonies paid at least twice for the dubious accolade of the imposition of the Pax Britannica).

Ask the search engine of your choice about Benedicite and you will be told this:
If you're not a user of the IPA, I recommend pressing the little loudspeaker doofer (in your browser that is, not on my screen-capture).

Elsewlere I wrote:
<autobiographical note>
In a choir I used to sing in, there was a great kerfuffle about how one should pronounce Benedicite. It couldn't have mattered less, as it happens, since that word does not occur in the [Ed: English] text.  But in  Benjamin Britten's world (and particularly at the school he went to when he went there) the first "i" (but not the second) had this same /ɑɪ/ diphthong.
<PS date=2017>
Benedicite was just the name of a canticle he was familiar with in the Book of Common Prayer: "Bless ye the Lord".
</autobiographical note>

The first i has the same /aɪ/  diphthong as the mori that ends that poem: as I said here (a post that unaccountably has attracted nearly 1 in 3 of all 100,000+ page visits that all HD posts have enjoyed over the last 5 years):
... in the school where Wilfrid Owen learnt his Latin, the last two lines rhymed...
The words are "old lie/mori", but it is an internal rhyme, I now see, as "Dulce" doesn't – as I had thought – start the last line.
...(and they may have scanned as well – I dunno; even  if they didn't they probably did in schoolboy-speak, where the stress  is often inverted in memorized (and drilled) Latin. Think of aMO aMAS aMAT..., whose actual stress [Ed: on the first syllable] is attested by most [if not all] Romance languages.)
(Naturally, if you know and remember and love the poem with the sound /'mɔ:ri:/ don't let  me interfere. In my house there are many mansions/let a thousand flowers bloom/etc.)

Many examples in legal Latin show a similar vowel sound: prima facie (/praɪmә feɪsi:/), decree nisi (/naɪsaɪ/).... The same system of diphthong vowel sounds accounts for habeas corpus (/heɪbiәs.../) among others (although later "corrections" may have been made, especially in parts of the world where the English legal system was adopted).

But I have promises to keep, and files [sic] to weed before I sleep.


PS: A few clues:
  • Do about 50, not completely. (6)
  • Used up exemplary piece, in which to be used no longer. (9)
  • Publish electronic Bible version? (7)

Update: 2017.10.07.15:30 – Added PPS.

PPS Just heard one on the radio (a misquote, FWIW, but enough to remind me: anno domini (the second i with an /aɪ/ sound). In fact, this phrase may have been the catalyst for the misquote, now I think about it: it was "laudato domini" ( for "laudate dominum"): <some-latin-stuff>o <more-latin-stuff>i).

But laudato means "to|by|with|from the praised [one]"; and domini means "of the lord". Put them together and... well, I imagine a Latin scholar could find a context that they would fit in, but that ain't me, babe.

Update: 2017.10.29.17:30 – Added PPPS.

And another (recalled by a Radio 3 playing of I was glad: "Vivat Regina".

And those answers: PARTLY, DESUETUDE and EVULGATE. Sorry about the "in which", which I‘m afraid seems to have been an accidental typo.

Update: 2017.12.09.120:45 – Added P4S.

Last one: ex gratia

Monday, 25 September 2017

Fings ain't what vey used to be - they're a lot better

My latest Tezzy nomination (for the meaning of Tezzy see this blog, passim) goes to this paper (and the site that it links to). The paper is called

The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it

– a bit of a misnomer (as to its shortness), if you click on links within the paper, which takes you to more detail. For example, one of the first links is to a paper on Working Hours which itself is liberally spattered with thought-provoking stuff such as this:

Come on, chaps, could do better: 100 years ago, men  did about 10% as much as women did (productively) in the home. The balance is much better now, but still about 1:2. What's more, both the blue and the pink curves (see what they did there?) look pretty assymptotic: the women's "NO LESS" is droned  (sic?) out by the men's "NO MORE". But there is an irony here: are male bloggers more common than female ones?

Sadly, the

...and why it matters that we know it

bit gets short shrift. There are only four short paragraphs, none of which contains a link. Here's a taste:
For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow humans is a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.
(Come to think of it, that was quite a long paragraph. It just should have been shorter. I ran it through the text analysis tool at UsingEnglish, and here are the results:
Not bad on word-length, but not very readable; it almost qualifies for a FOGGY [see this blog, passim {again :-)}  – Average Sentence length a shade under 20, Lexical Density a shade under 60, Fog Index over 14).

So if you want some more palatable auto-back-slapping, try this video from Bill Gates.

But about that productive effort...