Monday 8 March 2010

Apostrophes and 'Bus[es]

I used to have a teacher who apostrophised everything. That's not to say that he talked to inanimate objects, at least to not to my knowledge. It was not the rhetorical apostrophisation, turning from the audience to address a city or a table or somesuch (London, can you wait?). No, it was turning away part of a word and replacing it with an apostrophe. He wrote a lot of notices that would refer to the 'phone and the 'papers, the punctuation point standing in for the missing tele and news. The habit was at the same time wondrously fastidious and gloriously silly. It would be fun to continue it to its logical conclusion: lunch' as a shortening of luncheon, fo'rt'night as a shortening of fourteen nights and 'bus as shortening for the macaronic voiture omnibus introduced by Monsieur Laffitte to the weary streets of Paris in 1820.

Technically, if you did consider 'bus to be an abbreviation, the plural would be bus as well as omnibus is simply the dative plural of the Latin omnus, meaning everybody. It was a car for everybody. So it wouldn't pluralize to bi as it was already plural.

Mind you, I used to know a jentacular chap who insisted that porridge was a plural as it was a shortening of porridge oats. So "How are your porridge?" "My porridge are delicious, thank you."

Speaking of macaronic buses:

WHAT is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo--
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!
   - A.D. Godley 1914

That was terribly funny if you know a little Latin. If you don't and it wasn't, then I shall tell you what I used to tell my teacher: that I'm terribly sorry and will do better Next Time. Though I never did.

Next Time used to be such an important idea: a gleaming and better othertime, like an old man's memories.


  1. Dear Dogberry,

    I'm a native Los Angelina moving to London this Easter break.

    I have a new baby that I like to dress in outfits from designers like Little Marc jacobs. The look is grungy, quite "street".

    Sometimes when I venture out of Malibu, the Meat Packing District in New York and the Left Bank in Paris I get ignorant people calling child welfare services and accusing me of being a bad mom. It's like some people don't understand how an emaciated baby covered in grime is a great look for spring/summer 2010.

    What areas in London should I stick to so I don't get any hassle? Is Kentish Town a safe bet?

    Your truly,

    Linda "Rock" Hudson

  2. To be honest Linda, Kentish Town is as you'd imagine it - really very like Kent. There's a lot of hop growing and oasts and the general feel is home-counties-bucolic. For a dirty baby I'd move your sights a little way North to Frognal: it's a bourgeois/too-rich-to-be cool-anymore sort of ambience. Several of the Spice Girls own apartments there. There's also a view northward encompassing Brent Cross and the New Wembley Stadium, which is just what a small child needs. Remember your baby probably hasn't learnt to focus yet, so I say give him a challenge! If you breast feed him and then hold him up towards the horizon his eyes will have to do some strenuous adjustments between teet and distant dormitory town and that's going to produce strong ocular muscles that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
    Hope that helps.

  3. Thanks Dogberry, but I've decided to adopt once I get to Frognal. I'm looking to get one where the ocular muscles are already highly developed, but thanks for the tip.

    I have another question though: my husband is staging this bitter custody battle. His attorney Gary Knobloch placed electronic tags on our baby. Does this mean he might explode if I take him to that shopping mall west on Encino, or do you think it's quite safe?

    Best regards,


  4. The Antipodean19 June 2010 at 08:53

    Speaking of being wondrously fastidious, (well, fastidious, at any rate) pluarl? Some fancy new grammar term?

    And how do we feel about s/z? Pour moi, pluralise, (pluarlise?) but each to their own.

  5. I prefer the S, but couldn't tell you why (because it's a deathly secret).
    There's a book by Barthes called S/Z, although I couldn't tell you why. It's about Balsac.