Tolk of the Devil

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings (1954-5) into English. By that I mean (of course) that I wish someone would translate LOTR into good English. I’ve looked at Tolkien’s bad English in “Noise Annoys” and “Science and Sorcery”. Here’s another example:

Pippin declared that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit that he had been.

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “considering that there is actually a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.”

“Do not speak of such things!” said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness. – The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”

Strider should have added: “Or in such a way!” In the second paragraph, Frodo suddenly talks like a Guardian-reader. Why on earth did Tolkien use “thinning process”, “indefinitely” and “actually” amid otherwise good, simple English? Thinning is obviously a “process”, so there’s no need to say it is, and “indefinitely” and “actually” are badly out of a place in a fantasy novel, let alone in dialogue there. “Considering” is less bad, but it should go too. I would improve the paragraph like this:

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “seeing that there is now a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning will not go on much longer, or I shall become a wraith.”

Now there’s nothing incongruous: the only un-English word is “very”, but that doesn’t seem un-English on the tongue or to the eye. The Guardianese is gone, but it should never have been there in the first place. Tolkien should not have written like that in Lord of the Rings. And not just as a professional scholar of language: simply as a literate Englishman. H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926) had been in print for twenty-eight years when The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. It’s hard to believe that Tolkien wasn’t familiar with it.

If he wasn’t, that’s a great pity. If he was, the bad prose in LOTR becomes even more inexplicable and unforgiveable. Alas for what might have been! Imagine if, per impossibile, Tolkien’s masterwork had been edited by the second-greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth-century, namely, Evelyn Waugh.

When bad prose appears in something by Waugh, it’s deliberate:

I had a fine haul – eleven paintings and fifty odd drawings – and when eventually I exhibited them in London, the art critics, many of whom hitherto had been patronizing in tone as my success invited, acclaimed a new and richer note in my work.

Mr. Ryder [the most respected of them wrote] rises like a fresh young trout to the hypodermic injection of a new culture and discloses a powerful facet in the vista of his potentialities … By focusing the frankly traditional battery of his elegance and erudition on the maelstrom of barbarism, Mr. Ryder has at last found himself.Brideshead Revisited (1945), Book II, “A Twitch Upon the Thread”, ch. 1

Waugh was deliberately mocking the mixed-metaphor-strewn prose and pretensions of modern critics. Waugh paid great attention to language and compared writing to carpentry. It was a craft and good craftsmen do not work carelessly or use bad materials. Nothing in Brideshead is careless or casual, as we can see when the narrator, Charles Ryder, first meets the “devilish” æsthete Anthony Blanche, who has “studied Black Art at Cefalù” with Aleister Crowley and is “a byword of iniquity from Cherwell Edge to Somerville”. Blanche has a stutter and Waugh uses the stutter to underline his iniquity. Or so I would claim. Here is Blanche engaging in some papyrocentric performativity:

After luncheon he stood on the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the bric-à-brac of Sebastian’s room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on its way to the river.

“’I, Tiresias, have foresuffered all,’” he sobbed to them from the Venetian arches –
“Enacted on this same d-divan or b-bed,
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the l-l-lowest of the dead….”

And then, stepping lightly into the room, “How I have surprised them! All b-boatmen are Grace Darlings to me.” Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 1

Talking about the Greek sage Tiresias, who experienced life as both a man and a woman, Anthony Blanche, a man whose surname is the feminine form of the French adjective blanc, meaning “white”, stumbles over the initial consonants of three words: “divan”, “bed” and “lowest”. Is it a coincidence that the same consonants, in the same order, appear in the Greek diabolos, meaning “devil”?

I don’t think so. If Blanche had stuttered on “surprised” too, I would be even more certain. But the –s isn’t essential. After all, it was lost as diabolos journeyed from Greek to Latin, from Latin to French, and from French to English, where it appears as “Devil”. And what does Charles Ryder later call Anthony Blanche after Blanche has spent an evening tête-à-tête trying to turn Ryder against Ryder’s great friend Sebastian Flyte? You can find out here, as Ryder discusses the evening with Sebastian:

“I just wanted to find out how much truth there was in what Anthony said last night.”

“I shouldn’t think a word. That’s his great charm.”

“You may think it charming. I think it’s devilish. Do you know he spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost succeeded?”

“Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn’t approve of that at all, would you, you pompous old bear?” – Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

Blanche is “devilish” and his reputation for “iniquity” is well-deserved. That’s why I think the three words over which Blanche stutters were carefully chosen by Waugh from The Waste Land. Waugh was a logophile and that is exactly the kind of linguistic game that logophiles like to play.

Oh My Guardian #8

“When it comes to Harry Potter, JK Rowling just can’t leave it alone. This is not necessarily a bad thing – fans have got to see Harry and friends all grown-up in the Cursed Child plays – but she’s also managed to muddy the waters by her constant rejigging of the original narrative furniture.” — Fantastic Beasts isn’t racist, but JK Rowling should stop tweaking the source material, Hannah Flint, The Guardian, 28ix2018.


Oh My Guardian #7 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
Reds under the Thread more on mixed metaphors… in terms of The Guardian
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Go Too Woke on an Egg

Goop to pay out over unproven health benefits of vaginal eggs

Goop, the new age lifestyle and publishing company founded by the [actress] Gwyneth Paltrow, has agreed to pay a substantial settlement over unproven claims about the health benefits of its infamous vaginal eggs. Goop’s website still claims that inserting the eggs into the vagina helps “cultivate sexual energy, clear chi pathways in the body, intensify femininity, and invigorate our life force”.

Its $66 Jade Egg and $55 Rose Quartz egg are still offered for sale on the site, but the company has agreed to pay $145,000 to settle allegations that it previously made unscientific claims about the eggs, and a herbal essence that it had said helped tackle depression.

It also agreed to refund customers who purchased the products from January to August last year. During that period it claimed the eggs could balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control, according to officials in Santa Clara part of a group of California district attorneys who filed the lawsuit. — Goop to pay out over unproven health benefits of vaginal eggs, The Guardian, 5ix2018.


N.B. The title of this incendiary intervention is a paronomasia on the old British advertising slogan “Go to work on an egg.”

The Hum of Heresy

I don’t know any exceptions to the rule that someone who likes William Burroughs will also be a member in terms of core issues around the hive-mind. From Kurt Cobain to Will Self: if you get a buzz outa Burroughs, that won’t be the only buzzing you’re corely acquaintanced with… And I predict that you’ll frequently use, hear and read core items from the hive-mind term-set such as “in terms of”, “prior to”, “issues around”, “engagement with”, “spike”, “skill-set”, “core”, “key”, “toxic” and “edgy”… You’ll also like italics and trailing dots

“There was a certain edgy excitement to turning on the computer every morning and immediately checking to see what Mark had thrown down in terms of an ideas-gauntlet.” – Simon Reynolds in the foreword to K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016), edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books 2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Don’t Do Dot…
Prior Analytics
Spike-U-Like?

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #66

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Pygmies and Secret PolicemenFootball Against the Enemy, Simon Kuper (1994)

Writhing Along in My AutomobileCrash: The Limits of Car Safety, Nicholas Faith (Boxtree 1998)

A Boy and His BanditBeloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinoüs, Royston Lambert (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1984)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Tutelary Trinity

“There are three golden rules to ensure computer security. They are: do not own a computer; do not power it on; do not use it.” — Robert H. Morris (1932-2011), computer scientist and once head of the NSA.

Prior Analytics

In terms of ugly, pretentious phrases used by members of the Guardian-reading community, the “signature” phrase is undoubtedly “in terms of”. But there’s another phrase habitually deployerized by Guardianistas that is perhaps even worse in terms of its core Guardianisticity. To get to it, let’s first engage issues around the title of this post: “Prior Analytics”. I took it from the title of a book on logic by Aristotle, Prior Analytics, known in Latin as Analytica Priora.

Are you surprised to learn that Prior Analytics has a companion called Posterior Analytics, or Analytica Posteriora? No, of course you aren’t. “Prior” and “posterior” are high-falutin’ words that go together: when the first appears, the second naturally follows. And you might think that this obvious pairing would alert Guardianistas to the ugliness and pretension of another of their signature phrases, “prior to”:

• Foreign press warn over dangers of new UK media laws prior to Leveson report — headline in The Observer, 24xi2012
• “Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless.” — The Great Gary Younge in The Observer, 6xi2011
• “Prior to a prang outside Tesco which, for insurance purposes, wasn’t actually my fault”… — The Great Zoë Williams in The Guardian, 8ii2005

Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use. But “prior to”? It’s almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”. I say “almost always” because you can make an exception for a technical usage like “Existence is logically prior to essence.” But that’s a rare exception, so I repeat: “prior to” is almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”.

And guess what? You’ll find this in the Guardian and Observer style guide under “P”:

prior to, previous to

   the word you want is “before” (see Guardian and Observer style guide: P)

Guardianistas should be able to realize that for themselves, because “prior to” naturally suggests “posterior to”. However, even Guardianistas don’t habitually say “posterior to” instead of “after”. Even a Guardianista’s ugliness-and-pretension-o-meter is tripped by “posterior to”. But only in the flesh, as it were. Guardianistas are apparently incapable of two-step logic: first, noticing that “prior to” rather than “before” naturally suggests “posterior to” rather than “after”; second, deciding that because “posterior to” is ugly and pretentious, they shouldn’t use “prior to” either.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Hal Bent for Leather

It isn’t the best possible phrase to be governed by “in terms of” in the pages of
The Guardian
, but the combination below may be the archetypal item of Guardianese:

And what about the leather? Was that also a signal? [Rob Halford:] “It wasn’t conscious. But how ironic that I chose that look – Glenn, the biker from the Village People. That wasn’t my attachment, in terms of the gay community, but I understood the power of that look.” — How Judas Priest invented heavy metal, The Guardian, 10×2010.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates


Poovy Postscript

The title of this post was originally “Highway to Hal”, which is feeble. I don’t know why I didn’t think a bit longer and come up with the present title, which has a double entendre (your actual French, ducky).

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #65

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Fratele Gets You NowhereO mie nouă sute optzeci şi patru, George Orwell, translated by Mihnea Gafiţa (Biblioteca Polirom 2002)

Whole Lotta ScottHighway to Hell: The Life and Times of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott, Clinton Walker (Pan Books 1996)

The Bella and the BoltonianA Forger’s Tale: Confessions of the Bolton Forger, Shaun Greenhalgh (Allen & Unwin 2017)

Clubbed to DeafThe Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club, Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster 2009)

Dizh Izh Vizh BizhVilest Visions: The Darkest, Despicablest, Disgustingest Decapitations vs The Nastiest, Noxiousest, Nauseatingest Necrophilia, Dr Samuel P. Salatta and Dr William K. Phipps (Visceral Visions 2018)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Oh My Guardian #7

As I pointed out in Ex-Term-In-Ate!, my excoriating interrogation of “in terms of”, this ugly and pretentious phrase is especially “popular among politicians, who need ways to sound impressive and say little”. But I’ve rarely seen even a politician blether like this:

Cox’s predecessor, Mike Wood, the town’s Labour MP from 1997 to 2015, has said he felt it prudent not to rise to Lockwood’s provocation while in office. But, breaking his silence, [he] told the Observer: “Lockwood has never been anything other than a major issue in terms of trying to unstick what a lot of people were trying to do in terms of community relations.” — Tommy Robinson and the editor: how a newspaper ‘sows division’ where Jo Cox died, The Observer, 2ix2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #6 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates