Philology

From my very limited grasp of the Greek language (I still feel that any gala should involve a celebration of milk), I believe the title should refer to a love of words.  Mr Collins is rather drier in his definition going with “comparative and historical linguistics” or, more broadly, a “study of literature”.  He also notes that it is no longer in scholarly use – so ideal for GofaDM!

So far as I know, I have always loved words.  As a tiny, wee nipper I would insist that any text within my visual field was read out to me – or so my mother tells me.  As a result, she took advice from my aunt (a teacher) on how to teach me to read (earlier than was then the norm) in the hope that this might shut me up.  In the whole field of human endeavour, this may be one of the least successful activities ever attempted – not only did it singularly fail to shut me up, my excessive loquacity has now spread to the medium of print and thus to your eyes, dear reader.

I still feel the need to read any print: despite any language barrier that may exist or any propriety that might be offended – I really need to control my urge to read other people’s tattoos (though my “worst” tattoo-related incident was studying a chap’s body art to try and work out which mes0-American culture it was pastiching: Olmec, I think).

This obsession with words might explain my vulnerability to my continuing theatre-addiction and explain something of the nature of the GofaDM.  The style of this blog may have little to commend it, but I do try to give otherwise neglected words a little bit of exercise and a brief glimpse of the sky.  I like to imagine a few readers now using some more obscure vocabulary in their everyday lives – no doubt to the dismay or confusion of their nearest and most expensive.

As was recently established, via the work of Antonio Serrano on The Verb, I can love words even when I can only understand a little of what is said and the position of the word boundaries.  In the recent In Our Time on Rabindranath Tagore, one of the academics read a short extract from his early poem Sonar Tari (the Golden Boat) in its original Bengali.  This was amazing enough to cover my arms in goosebumps, despite my total ignorance of the language and not even knowing when one word ended and another began.  Subsequent research shows that Bengali is also a beautiful language to look at, though again means nothing to my uneducated eyes.  It does look potentially confusing too, as a 4 looks like an 8 and a 7 like a 9: maybe I should work on my Greek first, at least they use the same numbers and via mathematics I know most of the alphabet.

However, the primary stimulus behind this post is A L Kennedy.  I have now read the first two stories in her latest collection, All The Rage.  I am rationing them as they are too rich to be consumed en masse.  The first, Late in Life, I more-or-less managed to read in her voice – or the best approximation that the voices in my head can achieve.  For the second, Baby Blue, I was stuck in my own voice for some reason – even though I had heard the author read a sizeable extract a couple of months back.  Despite the (OK, my) voice, the story is the most perfect piece of prose that I can imagine existing – every word is necessary and just the right one for its place.  I would wonder how she manages this, but I know she goes through hundreds of drafts which must be part of the reason – however, I could do that and get nowhere close to this standard of writing.  I’ve read very well-reviewed books, Nobel-Prize winners even, and many have been very good – but in none have the words achieved quite such an apotheosis.  Still, the fact I can at least recognise such excellence does give me hope (a very vague and distant hope) that I can construct an objective function against which to measure the deficiencies of my own writing and identify improvements (and plenty of these literary fruit should be suspended pretty close to terra firma).  However, this paragraph does demonstrate with irritating precision my inability to fully convey my own thoughts as I would wish – though perhaps I’m not alone. One of the many positive, professional reviews of All The Rage says that it “celebrates love like a hungry dog celebrates the corpse of a rabbit”.  Perhaps I need to more fully embrace the metaphor and not just for (weak) comic effect or in chronic over-extension.

I wonder if this embrace of the short story and poetry might be an indicator of incipient adulthood (though, if I’m honest, I really don’t think I can pull off a hood – style-wise I mean, this is not a comment on the lack of flexibility in my shoulders) – or have a just discovered my teenage angst a mere three decades too late?

Surveying seraphim

I passed a chap in a hi-viz jacket earlier today, who was using a device mounted on a tripod to make some sort of measurement.  I believe the device was a theodolite – and this made me think about what it was he might have been measuring.

I am no classicist, but I’m pretty sure that English words beginning with the letters T-H-E-O come to us from the Greek theos, meaning god.  Sadly, my limited Greek does not reveal the meaning of the “-dolite” portion of the word, but presume this must relate to surveying in some way.

As a result, I was forced to assume that the man was surveying the heavens.  I’m not sure what aspect of a god or gods he was trying to measure: how does one measure omniscience in any case?  And why try this at the start of the guided busway?  Whilst sharing a prefix with many of the powers traditionally linked to the divine, I don’t think that the omnibus is commonly associated with the Lord; and while he is reported as saying “I am the way” (by some journo by the name of John),  I really don’t think this was in reference to a slightly faster, traffic-free route between Cambridge Station and the Trumpington Park and Ride (if it was, then snaps to Cambridge City Council for gaining some very early and widely distributed advertising).

Despite these niggles, it was good to see some practical theology in action.

EU-phuistic

The poor old EU takes a lot of stick, and surely it can’t all be deserved?  Only last week, the government faced a major revolt as some of its members wanted a referendum to reclaim some powers from Brussels.  I fear they may have rather misunderstood the importance of the EU to any UK government – it is a rather handy scapegoat for anything unpopular (just ask Jim Hacker).  If you have all the power, then you also accumulate all the blame – as the other “half” of the coalition has discovered after years of safety in political obscurity (and this has occurred even with a rather modest share of only some of the power).

I’m also not terribly convinced that leaving the EU would do much to protect us from the economic woes afflicting our main trading partner and a continent which lies little more than 20 miles away.  Let’s face it, they seem to be looking for money from China – and they’re neither part of the EU nor physically close.  But, what do I know?

The word “eu” of course, comes to us from the Greeks – a little ironic given the current trouble they seem to be causing the EU.  Eu (or eus) means well, pleasant or good.  So, euphony (eu + phone) is a pleasing sound – which rather fails to explain the euphonium (surely other more deserving instruments could have been blessed with this particular appellation).

Euthanasia – rather frowned upon today – comes from the concept of a good death (and it was this derivation which inspired this post via a recent episode of “In Our Time”) while euphemism comes from good speech and eulogy from good word(s).  In fact, it is from the “art” of eulogy that this blog springs: so clearly one can take direct translation from the Greek too far.  Back in the last millenium, when people left whereso’er I was working I would write a brief eulogy to mark their departure (not for everyone, obviously, just for those I knew well).  These eulogies would all be based on the truth – but wilfully mis- or over-interpreted to produce a soi-disant amusing result (so, not much has changed).  It was my attempt to re-capture the “glories” of these juvenilia that has led to so much suffering (or at least being reminded of them acted as one of the proximate causes of GofaDM).

Not all words starting with the letters “eu” have this etymology.  The word “euro” does not come from the Greek at all – but instead from an aboriginal Australian word for a type of kangaroo.  If you’re going to name your currency after a kangaroo, I think you’ve got to expect a few ups and downs – and, probably a pouch.

Whilst vaguely on the topic of the the current Euro crisis, am I the only one to feel that Ben Stiller must be a shoo-in to play Nicolas Sarkozy when the film is made?

The title you say?  I thought it rather an apt description of the style of GofaDM (which very much follows in the footsteps of John Lyly).

Declension Tension

When preparing a blog entry earlier in the week, I found myself wondering whether “colossus” was a Latin or a Greek “-us” noun.  As I’m sure all my readers will be aware, this would affect the formation of the plural and as you will have seen I went with the Latin option “colossi” rather than the Greek “colossodes”.  Though now I’ve written it down, I do prefer the Greek – but my dictionary was less than keen, even going so far as to suggest the frankly ugly “colossuses”.

All this thinking about Greek plurals, coupled with the cricket from Down Under, caused the sudden realisation that the Antipodes is a plural – of antipous (opposite foot, or something similar).  I’m sure this will have been obvious to everyone else for years – but it did take me back to my Classics lessons in the late 1970s.   It was then that I was first taught how to decline a noun.  As I recall, a simple “no, thank you” was considered sufficient under most circumstances.

I can only apologise.