Monday 14 February 2011

Picture-skew pronounce-iations

It’s easy to be superior about the failure of others to spell correctly, indeed some have almost made a career out of it.  At the end of the day an unorthodox spelling is not the end of the world, though it can be symptom of sloppiness.  But it’s interesting that mispronunciations don’t seem to attract so much opprobrium or cause so much embarrassment as misspellings.  Perhaps someone’s pronunciation is just more “personal” and more embarrassing to challenge than their spelling.

But I do find hard to understand how someone delivering a prepared formal speech, even broadcasting to the millions, can mangle a word from their own specialist field so grossly that you have to wonder whether they can ever have heard anyone else pronounce it like that, or even whether they’ve ever heard the word said at all.  Surely, rather than look like a fool and lose all credibility, you’d ask an adult to help you, not just make up some nonsense?

A couple of ecclesiastical examples came up this weekend.  At a well-attended church service I was amazed to hear the minister refer to the canopy used in Jewish weddings, the chuppah, as the “chopper” (or some such).  This from one who makes a personal mission of organising “interfaith” gatherings and prides himself on his friendships with spiritual leaders of other faiths.

Radio 4’s Sunday Worship on “the eve of St Valentine’s Day” came from Worcester College Oxford. Not surprisingly, the readings included a passage from the Song of Songs, read by a student of the college in the King James version: “let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” and so on. This person is actually writing a doctoral thesis on the subject, but staggeringly, she had no idea how to say this funny-looking word “comely” that crops up so often in that chapter of the Old Testament, and pronounced it as if it was something to do with combs. 

Incidentally, the sermon was given by a reader in Old Testament theology at the same Oxford college, who introduced a hymn thus: “another Spanish mystic, Bianco of Siena, gave us her interpretation of this mystery in what has now become, in English, a well known wedding hymn.”

Except that the hymn she meant was Come Down O Love Divine, not Love Divine All Loves Excelling, which is what they sang.  And Bianco of Siena (died 1434) was, as the name suggests, (a) male and (b) from Siena.  You know, in Italy.

Sunday 13 February 2011

La géographie nostalgique est arrivée !

“Harry Campell déterre le vieil atlas familial...” Yes readers, that’s me there with the shovel. No family atlas either side of the Channel can sleep safe in the ground when “Campell” is around. For — sacrebleu ! — dear old Tanganyika has been translated (somewhat literally) into French. Mais qu’est donc devenu le Tanganyika ? : Les noms de lieux abandonnés par l’Histoire is published this month by Editions de l’opportun. Adopting the phrase coined by Alexander McCall Smith, they describe it as a manuel de géographie nostalgique.

I see there’s also a nice review in Valeurs actuelles: “un petit livre délicieux”. Even if they refer to Cathures as an island. The weather in Glasgow (as we call the place today) has been wet recently, but not as wet as that.

Sunday 2 January 2011

More greengrocer’s apostrophes

Happy New Year to all my reader(s), if I have any left after my total neglect of this blog over the last half a year or more.

At Christmas I was delighted to be given a copy of the 1815 reprint of John Walters’s famous English–Welsh dictionary of 1740. As with any good dictionary, you can lose yourself in it for hours. And it’s a particular joy, for those of us who get a bit weary of the golden age mythology of the Tedious Trussite Tendency, to see that it comes complete with the reviled “greengrocer’s apostrophe” on almost every page.

Thursday 5 August 2010

One's authorial voice, darling

Apparently I write like James Joyce. Impressive, eh? Or Daniel Defoe. Still pretty distinguished. Or H P Lovecraft. Or Ray Bradbury. Or (spare us) Dan Brown, even if my own style is slightly less… how can I put it… lucrative.

Basically the more samples you feed the gadget the less it can decide. One is such a profound literary enigma.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Midsomer Norton and Mumby Row

The places identified on the maps shown by TV weather forecasters can seem randomly chosen, but Richard Angwin of BBC Points West has a nice line in whimsical themes. Here he joins the ghosts of John Betjeman, Paul Jennings and Flanders and Swann in the fine tradition of revelling in quaint English placenames. Redmarley D’Abitot, Moreton Valence, Lydiard Millicent, Nempnett Thrubwell, Manningford Bohune, Hornblotton Green, Hatch Beauchamp, Gussage All Saints: quality toponymy. He did well to cram them onto the map.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

The horror! The horror!

Writing a book is an undertaking far more horrific than I’d ever imagined. Not only must the writer come up with several tens of thousands of words, not all of them the same, but he or she must arrange them in an order that makes some kind of sense to the first-time reader.
—Armando Iannucci, “On writing a book”, Facts and Fancies

Friday 11 June 2010

M and S pants

Radio 4 is, for many of us deskbound homeworkers, not so much something you listen to as something you hear: a human voice in the background to stave off cabin fever. The guest on today’s (repeated) Desert Island Discs is Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks and Spencer and, so he claims, the only white elder of the Wagogo “tribe” of central Tanzania. He’s a little hazy on the details of that country’s birth, however. “My family and I left Africa in ’60, ’61 when Tanganyika, as it was, became independent Tanzania.”

Not quite. As those who love to flatter TV adverts with parody might say (cue soothing music and sumptuous visuals), “This is not just fact...” — or rather, this is just not fact. For the record, Tanganyika became independent in 1961 as Tanganyika. The island off its eastern seaboard, Zanzibar, gained independence two years later, and only in April 1964 did the two form a brand-new nation, the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, shortly afterwards renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

So he plays a recording of some Wagogo traditional music and, without a hint of embarrassment or a flicker of irony, follows it up with a piece of hokum performed by a Lithuanian-born American Jew with burnt cork on his face. Yes, pop-pickers, it’s Al Jolson with “Mammy”. Rose remembers his parents “literally falling about laughing” when he would sing them this song as a young child in 1950s Africa.

What’s the one record he’ll cherish above all others? It’s a pop-style rendition by “crossover singer” Phillippa Giordana of “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma. Or as Kirsty Young calls it, “Costa Diva”. Plenty of them hanging around the high-street coffee shops and the Spanish seaside resorts, I expect.

Breakfast was not the best time to hear Kirsty Young flirt and slobber nauseatingly over this tedious plutocrat — “you’re very dashing, and you’re very urbane ... you’d be a bloody good catch for someone, Stuart!” Yes, the underwear rail at Marky’s will never be the same again for Kirsty.