Monday 10 May 2010

The Music of Abuse

As the Inky Fool continues to shuffle unconvincingly through the outskirts of relevance, something should perhaps be made of Nick Clegg's love of Samuel Beckett, which is odd as I previously pointed out that Samuel appeared to working for the Tories. Anyway, it's reason enough for a little look at this loving exchange:

Estragon: That's the idea, let's abuse each other.
They turn, move apart, turn again and face each other.
Vladimir: Moron!
Estragon: Vermin!
Vladimir: Abortion!
Estragon: Morpion!
Vladimir: Sewer-rat!
Estragon: Curate!
Vladimir: Cretin!
Estragon: (with finality). Crritic!
Vladimir: Oh!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.

The thing about Waiting For Godot is that nobody comes, nobody goes, and the whole play has to survive on the beauty of the writing, the music of the exchanges. Here, for example, all the insults are related by sound. It's almost like one of those puzzles where you get from one word to another by changing a letter at a time: fool pool poll pole pope. This is quite obvious is the curate cretin critic group but also lingers subtly in the on-in ortion-orpion or-ewer rat-rate.

So the poor curate is only thrown in as a bridge from sewer-rat to cretin. At least I imagine that that's the reason. Cretin derives from the word Christian. This was not because Christians were considered stupid, but because the dribbling and insane, the window-lickers and the chronically bewildered were nonetheless fellow Christians, in the same way we would insist that they are human beings too. So often was our common Christianity stressed that the term became abusive. All words for mental illness, however clinical or kind, grow up to be insults.

The harmony of words must also be the reason morpions get a mention. A morpion is a pubic louse*. If you didn't know that, don't worry. It's the French for pubic louse. This could make sense. You see Beckett originally wrote the play in French and called it En Attendant Godot. He then rewrote it a couple of years later in English. The exchange above was not in the original. It was added to the English version; hence, presumably, the reference to crritic.

By the rules of the game, if Estragon had said pubic louse, Vladimir would have had to reply with public house and that wouldn't have worked at all. The game is not easy: here's an attempt of my own:

You: Inky!
Me: Donkey!
You: Dunce!
Me: Bouncer!
You: Butcher!
Me: Belcher!
You: Felcher!
Me: Filth!
You: Fool!

*As an utterly unlinguistic aside: pubic lice and head lice are different species. This is not true of apes which, covered in hair, have but one form of louse wandering all over their bodies. By studying the genomes of the head louse and morpion one can work out how long the species have been diverging for and therefore how long ago humans became hairless. I forget the figure, but adore the methodology.

P.S. The picture at the top right may have inspired the whole play.


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  2. I'm going to run out of superlatives soon, so if you don't mind, I'll hang on to the one I was going to use for today.

  3. I really, really wanted to say all this out loud just to see what it sounded like. But I feared for the safety of my computer keyboard, with all that saliva on it.