Thursday, 23 October 2014
The 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
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
The 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.
Monday, 6 October 2014
The British news at the moment is full of talk of "soaking the rich". I forget which party is meant to be doing it, as I have no interest in parties not of the birthday variety. But the rich, it appears, are to be soaked sodden. This is rather odd when you think about it. Who are these soaking rich, and why are they so very, very moist?
The answer, it appears, is that they aren't wet at all. Soaking the rich goes back to 1935 when F.D. Roosevelt was accused of soaking the rich with his taxes. The OED has:
He thought he was being ‘clever’ when he tried to steal Huey Long's thunder by suddenly coming out with his ‘soak the rich’ tax message.
The Americans had been using the word soak to mean overcharge or extort money since at least 1895. But it has nothing to do with moisture. It's to do with hitting people.
Ever since 1699 people have been using the word sock to mean hit, beat, pummel, punch or bash. Often a mysterious it is inserted as in "sock it to him". The Americans, for some reason best known to the Americans, decided to start using soak for sock. So in 1892 they could say:
To-day's Washington Post ‘soaks’ it to the Southern Democrats in the House
And just as you can be hit for money, or stung for money, so you can be soaked, or socked, for money. So they're soaking [it to] the rich.
There's even a lovely Mark Twain line from 1883 where you can see the word just tipping over. In The Art of Inhumation a salesman says:
Why, just look at it. A rich man won’t have anything but your very best; and you can just pile it on, too—pile it on and sock it to him—he won’t ever holler.
And that, dear reader, proves that a chap can be soaked dry.
By taxing umbrellas