Saturday, April 28, 2007
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
St George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn't safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.
St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon's meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn't give him beans.
St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn't safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.
Friday, April 20, 2007
As a life-long political commentator, however, he saves his most serious complaints for politicians. Much of what he has to say is summed up in a quotation from William McAdoo (attacking US President Warren Harding) :
His speeches leave the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words actually capture a straggling thought and bear it away triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it dies of servitude and overwork.
How many political figures could that be applied to these days? Pompous New Labour phrases include the likes of 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' or 'for the many, not the few'. Humphrys - to my horror since it is something I often use - cites the construction 'not only...but also' as classic New Labourese. Not that David Cameron will fail to generate his own thought-manipulators before too long. 'Open mouth-immobilise thought' seems to be the essential tactic.
One last bogey Humphrys identifies, and which is worth mentioning, is the use of 'hurrah' and 'boo' words. These are the kinds of words that demand instant approval and approbation from the reader or listener. This sort of usage has been around for a long while. The almost sacramental power of these words excuses one from any other justification in one's analysis. Scorn or drooling praise can be doled out unreservedly, once these passwords, like conceptual laxatives, have been ingested.
1) Hurrah words:
new, practical, modern, scientific, efficient, progressive, affordable, deserving, natural, authentic, choice, freedom, democracy. Praise these things and everyone sensible must agree with you. Nobody but the foolhardy can possibly utter a word of caution or doubt.
2) Boo words include things like:
old-fashioned, exclusive, angry, privileged, outdated, traditional, religion, custom, virtue. Damn these things, and only the worst reactionaries will crawl out of their lair to demur.
No doubt Humphrys's analysis has its drawbacks. His almost unrelenting pedantry can be tiresome. But he is not above poking fun at himself with genuine self deprecation. He is understanding of those of us who defy the preposition rule in a sentence (which came from Milton anyway, and which should have been killed by Churchill's famous putdown, 'The placing of prepositions at the end of sentences is something up with which we will not put'). And he graciously forgives us when we begin sentences with conjunctions (phew!).
Humphreys echoes a tradition of cautious, thoughtful journalists - George Orwell, Graham Greene, et al. - who ply their trade with words but find themselves in a churning sea of usage, encircled by those enemies of thought, the political manipulators and commercial manglers of language.
I suppose I should be grateful he never turns his guns on bloggers!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Anyway, at least with the thesis done, the way ahead looks clear for a couple of months until the Viva voce (the 'defence' as the Frogs so dramatically call it). Reading University have offered me a temporary position for September, and the fog of the last few months can have a chance to clear away.
It's all come a bit to late to allow me to appreciate Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum this year. Still, sometimes we can carry the burdens, and sometimes we must let them be carried for us. The eager and thoughtful students of Blackfriars in Oxford have done some of the carrying for me this week, with their recordings of the most important melodies in the Church's liturgy. God bless Friar Robert Gay O.P. When set to melodies written for Latin, the English words can sound strange. But the sentiments are the same, very much the same, and more eloquently expressed here than anywhere else.
Everyone's world begins with a mystical belief, though not all mystical beliefs are the same, and not all mystical believers realise they are mystics. Still, I've yet to meet a human who makes sense of the world in any other way.
From Good Friday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRAQv2n0BJc&NR=1
From Easter Vigil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkle6URiM4s