Monday, 14 April 2014

The Unknown Unknown

The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted, by Mark Forsyth, exclusively for Independent Booksellers WeekI've written another book! Well, I say book, it's an essay for the Independent Booksellers Association on why bookshops are a Good Thing. It will be on sale in June, but only in independent bookshops.

It's largely about Donald Rumsfeld, but it also involves a discussion of theology, First UK Bus employees, and naughty French photographs from the nineteenth century.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Hungry Rhetoric

When Joyce is too simplistic, Tolstoy too brief, Kafka too jolly and Lautreamont too bourgeois, it's time to read The Hunger Games. I've just finished.

The third volume has as its catchphrase the rather catchy line "If we burn, you burn with us", and it occurred to me to wonder why the line is so... memorable, catchy, what you will. And when you inspect it, it's rhetorically rather interesting.

The following will all make more sense to those who have read The Elements of Eloquence, but there we go.

Firstly, there's the antithesis: we burn, you burn. Nice simple trick "East is East and West is West", "Man proposes, God disposes", "You say potato and I say potato". But there's more.

There's the pleasant little repetition of burn. Indeed, it's repeated with one word in between, which is a buried diacope. "Bond, James Bond" "Run, Forest, run", "burn, you burn", "Burn, baby, burn"


Sorry, I became rather carried away there.

But finally, there is the chiasmus, the symmetry. You start with:


Then you put a burn on either side:

Burn, you burn

Then you put "we" on one side and "with us" on the other:

We burn, you burn with us

And then you add an "If".

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. One for all and all for one. Nice to see you, to see you nice.

So that's three pretty sure-fire rhetorical tricks - antithesis, diacope and chiasmus, hidden in one sentence, combined with remarkable dexterity, and thoroughly memorable.

The Inky Fool made his own cinema version

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I Rare To Go

The other day, I was writing a text message in which I said that I was raring to go; and it struck me that rare is one of those odd verbs that you only see as a participle. Nobody ever says "I have rared to go", or "I plan to rare a lot on Thursday". It struck me that maybe you couldn't rare; maybe rare wasn't even a verb at all, as with sidling.

But it turns out that you can rare, and indeed often do. You just spell it slightly differently. Rare is a variant pronunciation of rear. Rear is an Old English word meaning raise (indeed if you go back even further in time rear and raise come from the same root). So you can rear a child, for example, without it being rude, or having anything to do with the rear end (which comes from the French).

Moreover, a horse can rear up on its hind legs. Horses do not do this simply in order to get things down from high shelves, they do it because they are impatient to get somewhere. They are rearing to go, or much more commonly raring to go.

Indeed, the first recorded use of the phrase in the OED has a significant apostrophe. It's from a book called Cabin Fever from 1918

‘Yuh ready?’ Foster's voice hissed in Bud's ear. ‘R'aring to go.

Of course, horses only rear children when they are in a stable relationship.

The first of the Inky Fool's equine kan-kan group was in training

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Adults and Adultery

You don't have to commit adultery to be an adult, but you do need to have been an adolescent.

I was rather surprised to find that the words adult and adultery have nothing to do with each other, apart from the prefix ad-, which hardly counts.

Adultery comes from the Latin ad-altarare, where the second half is where we got the English word alter. Originally, it just meant that something had been changed and therefore falsified. From that you got the idea of corruption, to which was added (by the French) the notion of corrupting the marriage bed. Mind you, it's important to remember that the marriage bed can be corrupted by husband and wife having sex simply because they enjoy it. This is a sin. Even Chaucer says so in the Parson's Tale.

The thridde spece of Auowtrie is som tyme bitwixe a man and his wyf..whan they take no reward in hire assemblynge but oonly to hire flesshly delit.

I am confident that none of the readers of this pure blog would ever be so evil as to make sex enjoyable for themselves or others.

Meanwhile, there was another Latin verb alescere, which meant to be nourished. By putting an ad- on the beginning you got adolescere, which meant to grow up, and that meant that somebody in the process of growing up was adolescent. The past participle of the verb was adultus, which just means having grown up.

You can also, according to the OED, commit adultery by being a bishop when you shouldn't be. This means that I now have plans for this afternoon.

The Inky Fool gives in to temptation

P.S. There's a very kind review of The Horologicon here.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentines Again

Just a little repost today of this video of me explaining why Geoffrey Chaucer is responsible for your restaurant bill this evening.

And I should mention that I'm terribly grateful to Macmillan who have nominated Inky Fool in their Love English blog awards. You can vote on the subject until midnight tonight.