Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Servant

cover_131214_issueI am, occasionally, accused of making everything I write up as I go along. Usually I weep; but I am now in the happy position of being able to confirm that it's absolutely true.

The Christmas Edition of The Spectator (out today), contains a short story called The Servant, by I. And it's fiction. It's a tragical-comical-pastoral rip-roarer about a man and his bottom.

You, dear reader, can read it in one of three ways:

1) You can sprint to the newsagent and buy a copy of The Spectator (the big Christmas one with Father Christmas on the cover). It's on pages 64-67. The rest of the magazine's rather good as well.

2) You can go on over to The Spectator's website but there's some sort of paywall.

3) The Servant will be available on Amazon as a Kindle Single in a month's time and I shall add a link here when it's up for pre-order.

I suppose there may be other ways involving theft or telescopes, but those are the conventional three. The story, since you ask, was inspired by an old Czech folktale (although it ended up very different).

Fiction! Glorious fiction! With no fact-checking. No having go over every sentence up in the British Library. The joy, the guilty joy, of making it all up as you go along.

This is relevant.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Et In Amusement Arcades Ego

Note the arches
I'm terribly distressed to find that the above pun doesn't quite work. Arcadia - the Greek realm of shepherds and nymphs and rural loveliness - is, perhaps, named after Arkas, son of Zeus, who was allegedly its first king.

Shopping arcades and amusement arcades are from the Italian word for arch: arcata. The idea is that an avenue covered with arcati* is therefore an arcade. Hence the Burlington Arcade, amusement arcades and arcade games.

The reason I was wondering about this at all was that I was reading More Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith (which is unutterably beautiful). In it, he talks of how, when he's out in the countryside he doesn't feel all free and liberated and back-to-nature, as a Romantic Poet should. Instead he longs for the city.

I am incongruously beset by longings of which the Lake Poets never sang. Echoes and images of the abandoned city discompose my arcadizings; I hear, I the babbling of brooks, the atrocious sound of London gossip, and newsboys' voices in the cries of birds.

Aracadizings (meaning, I suppose, wanderings in Arcadia) is a beautiful word nonetheless. I intend to use it when I scamper off to the Lake District for Christmas. And I suppose it could as usefully be used to describe shopping off Piccadilly. It is not, though, in the OED, which does have the verb to arcade but that only means to furnish with, or form into, an arcade, something that I have no intention of doing.

Incidentally, Smith's book is the origin of the modern meaning of trivia, but I shall explain that some other time.

The Inky Fool was always writing on tombs

*I'm guessing this is the plural.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


I was reading the excellent Twelve Curious Deaths in France by John Goldsmith, when I found that one of the characters was described as having:

…what I always thought was an excessive veneration of The Blessed Virgin, at time almost amounting to Collyridianism.

You see, Collyridianism is one of my favourite words, but it’s very hard to drop it into conversation. Unless the conversation happens to be about the heretical belief that the Virgin Mary is herself a goddess, which the conversation very rarely is.

Partially, I like it because of it sounds a bit like collywobbles and a bit like Collyweston (an old word for nonsense). But it’s related to neither of them. Etymologically, comes from the Greek kollurida, which meant little cakes. This is because the original Collyridians would bake little cakes and sacrifice them to Mary. Actually, that’s another reason I like the word. I like the fact that there’s a heresy named after cake.

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend Twelve Curious Deaths in France, if you like mysterious, funny short stories.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Rhetorical Advertising

Just a link today to this article that I wrote for the New York Times on the rhetoric of advertising slogans.

Be all you can be.
To be or not to be.
Et c.
Et c.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Collins Dictionary and Me

Collins English DictionaryThe 12th edition of the Collins English Dictionary is published today, and I'm terribly proud to say that I wrote the introduction. It's beautiful and sleek and black, and it's the largest single-volume English dictionary there is. It's got 50,000 new entries in this edition, something they've managed by clever expedient of making the paper thinner.

So now you can look up the word slumbersome (meaning sleepy), or dreamwhile (the duration of a dream), or eyesome (meaning beautiful), or twerk.

You can read a BBC article all about it by following this link. And as they've included the opening of the introduction, I think I shall as well:

There are few pastimes in life as pleasurable and profitable as reading the dictionary. The plot is, of course, rather weak, and the moral of the whole thing slightly elusive; but for my money there isn't another book that comes close to it. In any case, all other books are simply rearrangements of this one, and partial rearrangements at that.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Katy Perry, Shakespeare, and the Bible

Just a link today to this article that I wrote for the Huffington Post. It's about progressio and diacope and the Beatles and other such fun stuff. It is, of course, a further reminder that The Elements of Eloquence is now out in the U.S. of A.

Also, on Thursday I'm going to be in Oxford, at Blackwells on a panel discussing whether bookshops will exist one hundred years from now. Do come along if you're in Oxford.
Charles Dickens writing Tale of Two Cities

Friday, 10 October 2014

Eloquent Americans Elements of Eloquence is out in the USA. The greatest thing about the United States of America is that anybody can grow up to be president, so long as they can use chiasmus.

What is chiasmus, I hear you ask? Well, let's ask the presidents.

You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you.
         - Barack Obama (44th President) addressing U.S. veterans.

Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.
         - George Bush the Younger (43rd President)

People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example that by the example of our power.
         - William Clinton (42nd President)

The difference between them and us is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.
         - Ronald Reagan (40th President)

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America.
          - Jimmy Carter (39th President)

And so on and so forth. Ask not what Your President can do for chiasmus, but what chiasmus can do for your President. Even if you're just a presidential hopeful, you need to have a chiasmus up your sleeve just to apply. Mitt Romney said "Freedom require religion, just as religion requires freedom." Hilary Clinton said "In the end, the true test is not the speeches a president delivers, it's whether the president delivers on the speeches." Sarah Palin opined that "In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change." And Mae West said "It's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men."

That's what chiasmus is; and that sort of thing is what The Elements of Eloquence is all about. Chiasmus is one of the figures of rhetoric, and The Elements of Eloquence goes through the figures showing what they are, how they work, and how to write them.

I even kept American readers in mind whilst writing it. I was going to quote my namesake (but no relation) Bruce Forsyth saying "Nice to see you, to see you nice." But nobody beyond the Atlantic would have heard of that line.

So rush out and buy The Elements of Eloquence. Or, if you like, buy it from Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Indie Bound. It is your free right and your right freedom. Meanwhile, I shall wait for the election to the White House of Mr Billy Ocean.