James Platt—-Felixstowe’s genius linguist

 

Platt OED picDiscovered in an album of cuttings is this obituary of James Platt ( 1859 – 1910), one of the most distinguished philologists of his day.

‘English philology has suffered a heavy loss by the death of Mr James Platt, jun. at the age of 49 at his residence at Felixstowe.

Probably no living philologist could vie with Mr Platt for variety of knowledge. He had a thorough knowledge of all European languages, and a fair acquaintance with every known language, ancient or modern and a special taste for those which were out of the way, such as, for instance, those spoken on the American Continent, from Patagonian to Eskimo, and on the latter language he wrote a brilliant for the ‘Athenaeum’ a few years ago. He possessed a phenomenal memory and an astonishing range of reading. During recent years he had translated many beautiful Eastern poems which had not previously been rendered in English verse…’

The obituarist also refers to Platt’s valuable contributions to Notes and Queries and most notably his participation in James Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary project, where he identified ‘ strange alien words ‘.Unfortunately, Platt never lived to see Murray’s great dictionary published, and after an illness of two years he died at the age of 49, leaving a widow and a little girl named Irene. On her own death in 1990 it was discovered that Irene had bequeathed £250,000 to the University of East Anglia to establish the Platt Centre for ‘the study and teaching of modern foreign languages.’

[R.M.Healey]

 

 

How to Speak American

Found in the 1919 volume of the British literary miscellany Today is a beetle3bfascinating disquisition on the American use of English by the journalist J.M.C. Hampson, himself an American Anglophile. He begins his piece with a fragment of American dialogue followed by its translation:

“ Well, Dana, how do you stack- up this morning? “

“ Oh, sickabed.”

“Is that so? What’s on your system?”

“Oh, had a row with the Vrow; and look at that.” He pointed to the calendar on the wall in front of him, on which appeared in bold figures “Friday, 23.”

“Good Lord! 23—-skiddoo! Ugh! No wonder. Well, so long, I must be on my way. See you later.”

This being translated into English means that I called in at the office of my friend Dana Howard, said “Good morning “ , asked him how he felt, was informed that everything was all wrong, and that the proper place for him was in bed, that he had started the morning by an argument with his wife, and that he had just realised that it was Friday the 23rd. Be it understood that to an American 23 is the zero mark, and when it crops up all one can say is “skidoo”, meaning “get out of here”, or “away with it “; and if Friday falls on the 23rd it is even worse than Friday the 13th.All good Americans of the cities, at any rate, walk very warily before the Lord that day and pray that nothing untoward will happen . “So long “ as a substitute for au revoir is, of course, frequently used in England. Continue reading

A right hanky-spanky ad, and no mistake !

harriss-slap-up-shop-advert-001Discovered in that garden of visual delights, The Saturday Book (1960 ) is this quite extraordinary advert concocted by a working man’s outfitter by the name of Harris sometime in the mid nineteenth century. The copy is almost entirely composed of contemporary slang and cant terms. Harris’s three shops were all in central London   locations, which might suggest that some of the colloquialisms were Cockney rhyming slang, or at least slang that was restricted to the capital and its environs. A few of the terms have survived to this day ( ’ slap up ‘, is excellent, as in slap up meal; ‘no-go’, as in not accepted ; cords, for corduroys; ‘grabbed the chance’; ‘out and out ‘; ‘tick’ for credit; ‘crib’ for home; ‘swag’ for booty), while others have been lost for ever. Who the hell are Tea Kettle Purgers and Head Robbers? What was the Swan Stream and the ‘Melton Mowbray style ‘? Something to do with fox hunting, perhaps? Are ‘Trotter Cases’ shoes?

Some items of clothing advertised are self-explanatory ( moleskins, doeskins ),but others must be hunted down. I almost gave up on ‘broady’ until I found it online as meaning broadcloth. My reprinted Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811) was slightly more useful. The word ‘Quid ‘, meaning a a sovereign, dates from around 1688; to a Regency buck, however, it was a guinea, as was a ‘canary’ ; a ‘bob’ was a shilling and a ‘kick’ was a sixpence, though pluralised it meant breeches or trousers, as did kicksies. But the Slang Dictionary made no mention of Mud Pipes, Box Cloths, Plushes, Pilots, and Upper Benjamins. Perhaps these were of Victorian or purely Cockney origin. [RR]

 

At the Bookshop 1822 and 2016

Retrieved from our old Bookride site – this not unamusing extract from an 1820s English/ French conversation manual.  It gives an interesting insight into a vanished world. It is followed by our modern version where the translation was slightly robotic, so apologies for that…

Note the concern with the appearance and quality of the books, the perennial problems with trying to get the binder to do what the bookseller and customer wants, and on time. The eagerness of the collector to be the first to be offered fresh stock from the shop has changed very little. Still with us are the problems of delay in postal sytems…  Also it is interesting that in the early nineteenth century women bookbuyers were thought likely to be attracted to ‘Large Paper Copies’ and vellum bound books. The customer’s knowledge of book lore and binding styles has changed somewhat.

1822    
Well ! you are a man of your word, as usual: and the books that you were to send me, when shall I have them?
Eh bien ! vous etes un homme de parole, comme a l’ordinaire: et ces livres que vous deviez m’emvoyer, quand viendront-ils?
You are under great obligations to your binder; he often furnishes you with an excuse.
Vous avez un relieur a qui vous avez de grardes obligations , car il vous sert souvent de manteau.
I protest that I sent them to him the same day you came to buy them.
Je vous proteste que je les ai fait porter chez lui le meme jour que vous etes venu les acheter.

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Catch-phrases – interjections and rejoinders

41n7A6ZEwCLThis is a list sent in by a nameless jotter. It is by no means exhaustive. It had no notes but each well worn phrase has been used as banter- a rejoinder or an amusing interruption in a conversation or during an anecdote or monologue. Almost all use irony, sarcasm or mild mockery and are cliches – but they could possibly still incite mirth if the timing was right. Thumping cliches have asterisks. I’ll get my coat.

I am now off on a bike to the Bodleian to consult Partridge’s 1977 Dictionary of Catch Phrases in manuscript (as you do). It will be interesting to see how many of these he recorded. Most are site specific but fairly obviously so – for example if someone is going on about a politician – how he should be incarcerated, hung drawn and quartered etc., you might say “tell us how you really feel..”

Amen to that!

And this affects me how?

And you know this it how?

Are you nuts?

As it were (after an unintended pun)

As the Bishop said to the actress (archaic)

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A to Z of Zowie (Hippy Slang)

Found in an old Sunday Observer colour supplement from December 1967 this glossary of (then) very recent hippy and 'underground' slang, apparently known as 'Zowie.' In Britain 'Zowie' is mostly associated with David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie (born 1971) now known as Duncan Jones...For a comprehensive online dictionary of hippy slang check out Skip Stone's Hippy Glossary. Since the Summer of Love some of the words below have entered the language (groovy, happening, trip, vibrations, riff) and some like 'Zowie' itself and 'grey' have had very little currency. Slang authority Eric Partridge imported most of Peter Fryer's glossary into later editions of his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
A TO Z OF 'ZOWIE' Peter Fryer offers a selective glossary of the Underground.

acid/LSD. Acid-head/one who uses LSD.
be-in/hippy meeting.
bread/money.
bust/police search, raid.
cool/unruffled, admirable (but see groovy); not carrying illegal drugs.
crazy/admirable.
dig/understand. Diggers/idealist hippies undermining capitalist economies by giving away free clothes, washing-machines to needy.
drag/bore, dissapointment.
drop-out/one who opts out of society.
flip/arouse enthusiasm. F. one's wig/lose one's head.
Flower Power/from Flower Children or Beautiful People.
Revolutionary philosophy akin to ideas of Young Liberals, e.g. Make Love Not War. Characteristic: bell.
freak/arouse or share collective enthusiasm (freak-out).
fuzz/police.
gig/single paid performance.
grey/middle-aged, conventionally dressed/minded person (orig. US Negro term for a white).
groove/make good progress, co-operate.
groovy/admirable, sexually attractive.
happening/spontaneous eruption of feeling/ display.
hippy/product of Haight-Ashbury ('Hashbury') dist. of S. Francisco. Anarchic successors to Beat generation. Essential beliefs: protest, legalised drugs, opting out. Not to be confused with plastic hippies/mostly conventional youth who like to dress up at weekend.
hung up/annoyed.
love-in/gathering associated with groovy scene.
mind-blowing/ecstasy producing.
naturals/non-hip people.
plug-in/turn or switch on.
psychedelic/mind-expanding. Psychedelia/drugs, flashing lights, sound, colour, movies, dance – usually experienced simultaneously.
riff/repeated background phrase in music.
scene/Underground, or specific part of it.
stoned/very high on cannabis.
straight/conventional person, one who does not use cannabis.
teeny-bopper/anything from 11–16–average age of record-buying public.
think-in/poetry session, discussion group.
trip/LSD experience.
turned on/(1) accustomed to cannabis. (2) aware.
UFO/(pronounced 'yoofo'). Unlimited Freak Out – a hippy club.
vibrations/atmosphere; reactions, with sexual overtones.
Zowie/a new import from San Francisco, meaning hippy language.
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Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations

Found - a handy little book Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations by one Walter Sefton. It was published 'by authority of the War Office Welfare Department' (Leicester, 1944.) The title page notes that the book was '…designed to make help all men and women of the Allied Services in making their needs easily understood in foreign countries - a guide and comfort and friend when in any difficulty.' This type of book is still published (The Wordless Travel Book and the Point it Traveller's Language Kit),and there may even be an app - although now people probably just find an image on their phones and show it to a helpful foreigner..

The page shown is for use on board a steamship, possibly to answer requests such as 'Where is my car?' and 'Can I smoke in the bar?' 'I need a rug for sitting on the deck chair' and 'Where is the ship's library?'

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Pickpockets

Found in the Haining collection - this article from 1936 on pickpockets. The author Louis Mansfield has much advice,most still relevant. The bit about a 'dip's' long, tapering fingers may be fanciful but certainly it is not a profession for one with fat fingers...

PEARSON'S WEEKLY, May 30, 1936

THIS IS DERBY WEEK, SO

WATCH YOUR POCKETS!

Pickpockets will be busy among the crowds. It is their best time of the year. Louis C. S. Mansfield, detective and crime investigator, lets you into secrets of the "dip's" profession – and they have some good ones. You have been warned!

TAKE HIS ADVICE–

  I have worked against pickpockets for years. Here's my advice to you if you want to return home with your notecase.
  Be careful when you see men carrying, and not wearing, their overcoats, or holding newspapers which are open–not folded.
  Grab your wallet quickly if a stranger starts brushing paint or dust off your coat.
  If somebody hits you on the back and says "Sorry," look for a touch in front–because you won't feel it.

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Edward Balston—the man in love with Eton College

It’s bad enough to learn that nineteen British prime Ministers attended Eton College without learning recently, as I did, that one Eton man was so enamoured of the benefits of a classical education that he seriously suggested that Latin and Greek were the only subjects that should be taught in the classroom.That man was not, incidentally, Boris Johnson, but Edward Balston.

Balston—the son of William, that famous papermaker familiar to all students of palaeography—attended Eton in the 1820s and early 30s and then entered  King’s College, Cambridge in 1836. Awarded the Browne Medal for Latin verse every year from 1836 to 1839, he was unusually elected Fellow of King’s in 1839, two years before he  graduated, though why it took him five years to gain his B.A. is not adequately explained. In 1842 he became a priest.

Balston loved Eton so much that he couldn’t wait to return there. In 1840, before he had even graduated, he became an assistant master at his alma mater. Twenty two years later he was chosen as Head. In July 1862, not long after his appointment, Balston came up before the Clarendon Commission on Education. On hearing his views on the primacy of classics in the classroom Lord Clarendon was appalled:

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The 25 most beautiful words

A press cutting from an American newspaper from 1911  found in an old lexicon. It reads:

A contest to decide the twenty-five most beautiful words in the English language, conducted by the West Fifty-seventh street Branch of the Y. M. C. A., this week was won by John Shea, a lawyer, of 416 Broadway. The prize was a flexible leather standard student's dictionary. Twenty-one of the twenty-five words submitted by Mr. Shea were accepted. "The words accepted are melody, splendor, adoration, eloquence, virtue, innocence, modesty, faith, joy, honor, radiance, nobility, sympathy, heaven, love, divine, hope, harmony, happiness, purity and liberty. Three of the words rejected were grace, justice and truth. 

This story seems to have been syndicated as another paper of the time explains that 'grace' and 'justice' were stricken out because of the harshness of the 'g' in grace and the 'j' in  justice and the word truth was eliminated because of its metallic sound.100 years later in a less religion centred world it would be a different list - love and happiness, heaven, hope and liberty might still make it…(also truth and justice might be allowed back.) However melody, splendor, adoration, eloquence, virtue, innocence, modesty, faith, honor, radiance, nobility, sympathy,divine,  harmony and purity might not..

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Quest for Fire & Burgess (1980)

Found- a press-cutting from 9th November 1980 about Anthony Burgess and the making of the movie Quest for Fire - which came out in 1981. Burgess created a primitive language which is spoken in the movie by the Ulam tribe. The article is joshing in tone. It was published in the 'Public Eye' section of The Observer, possibly a sort of gossip column.

Anthony Burgess Back to Basics

Remarkable things have come off the typewriter off the author Anthony Burgess; but none so odd  as two hours of grunts for a £4 million film about the Stone Age.' Hell of a lot of work creating a language on basic principles', he says.

The grunting, Burgess-style,  has been going on around Aviemore in the Scottish highlands. 14 elephants, heavily disguised as woolly mastodons are also playing their parts, trumpeting as they fancy without literary guidance.

On the telephone from his home in Monaco, the distinguished grunt writer seemed astounded  that the film Quest for Fire was not being shot in Iceland. 'I thought they'd sent the elephants up there'  said Burgess.  'The lights good in Iceland.' [Some info about location problems, cost etc.,] …but there was no stinting on the grunts.  Burgess came to London to show the actors how to have a meaningful meaningless dialogue. Author/ anthropologist Desmond Morris joined him, to teach the right gesticulations for naked apes.

There are no star names amongst the cave persons, who are largely occupied in fighting one another for fire (it comes naturally, no doubt, in the Highlands just now).  The script by Gerard Brach derives from a somewhat obscure French novel published in 1912. On Wednesday the entire team, 80 strong, flies off to grunt in a warmer clime, in Kenya.

Baring

The Ponsonby-Baring Language

Maurice Baring with his
pet budgerigar 'Dempsey'

This private language, known as 'The Expressions,' was used by the writer Maurice Baring (1874 -1945) and his family and friends. It was started by his mother and her sister, Lady Ponsonby, when they were very young and developed over two generations. It is mentioned in Emma Letley's biography of Baring and there are a few pages on it in Sir Edward Marsh's A Number of People (London, 1939.) Marsh writes: '..in the course of two generations (they) had developed a vocabulary of surprising range and subtlety, putting everyday things in a new light, conveying in nutshells complex situations or states of feeling, cutting at the roots of circumlocution. Those who had mastered the idiom found it almost indispensable, and my stable-companion at the Colonial Office, Conrad Russell, when asked if he knew anyone who knew the Baring language, answered: 'I spend all my days with a Baring monoglot.' One or two words have already passed into the language: 'Pointful' (the opposite to 'pointless') which Desmond MacCarthy constantly uses in his critical writings, is of Baring origin…'

Some of the words are a little site-specific but could still have their uses (e.g. 'a Shelley Plain' for the sighting of a famous person*) others like 'loser' seem quite current, although M.B.'s 'loser' is more of a cad than a failure. Here is a glossary based on Letley/ Marsh:

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My Epigram

Some more humorous writing from the papers of E. V. Knox ('Evoe.") He was, for a while, editor of Punch (1931 - 1949) and this may have appeared there although there is no trace of it online...

MY EPIGRAM

  For long it was a fugitive dream. I would catch sight of it, as one sees, or seems to see, a wild animal far down a forest clearing, or might it be a woodland nymph or faun? Or perhaps I would trace it written in the colours of the sunset, or in the morning among the folds of mist as they cleared from the chimneys on the mountain tops.

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