Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Words, idol words [sic]

Brian Murphy was then Education Officer of the TUC. It was in his home that Malcolm first saw the coming wonders-of-the-age: CEEFAX and PRESTEL. So that means we are back in the mid-1970s.

Brian and Liz Murphy's home in Woodland Rise, Muswell Hill, had no obvious need of wallpaper. Every unglazed, undoored, vertical surface was book-shelved. And the shelves were over-populated.

Even the loo.

To Malcolm, that was Paradise enow.

Now, the higher authority at Redfellow Hovel insists books or magazines are not to be left in the jakes. That makes the works of Ben Schott, so portable and episodic, the ideal companion to necessary moments of evacuation.

And so, by a commode's vicus of recirculation, we arrive at Malcolm's point.

Schott has become a minor, but highly successful industry. Apart from the annuals, the ever-ready solution to "What shall we give Grandad?", he crops up with spreads in the Times and elsewhere. However, he has found a regular home at the New York Times, where he introduces us to the new vocabulary:There is little original about the concept. Every lexicographer has been both kept in useful employ and plagued by the propensity of the populace to devise, adapt and discard words. Each new technology that comes along invents and re-invents a peculiar dialect. "Dot Wordsworth" is doing something very similar to Schott for The Spectator.

No, it's not the same thing that the Oxford English Dictionary, and its rival heavy tomes, attempt to do: they are more reflective, more considered. What Schott and Co are doing is grasping at the Zeitgeist, that we may momentarily reflect on modern instance, as it is plucked fresh and raw. Many of the fleeting terms that Schott describes will be forgotten in days or, at most, weeks: they are, or were little more than metaphors conceived in some fertile brain to explicate or decorate a gossamer moment.

What is intriguing about Schott at the New York Times (go see for yourself) is just how politically he manages to concoct his ingredients: recent entries have been:
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's incendiary use of cruel and repressive racist regime to describe Israel's policy to Palestine;
  • the so-called “pottery shop” argument – we [the Coalition Forces] owned Iraq because we (helped) break it;
  • Nursery of Terrorism: the Nickname for Azamgarh, a district in Uttar Pradesh, India, which is the birthplace of a significant number of people arrested for suspected involvement in terrorism.
  • A Gathering Storm: The title of a “religious liberty ad campaign” challenging same-sex marriage, released by the National Organization for Marriage.
And many more.

Young Ben Schott is getting away with murder at the Gray Lady. Long may he be licensed liberally to do so.

Lefties and people of a strong liberal disposition might be well advised to catch him now before they shut him down.

Brian Murphy would have raised a glass (or three) of malt to cheer him on. Sphere: Related Content

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