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.

Ratschläge einer Raupe

“Alice and the Caterpillar” by John Tenniel (1820-1914), from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865)


Ratschläge einer Raupe is one possible German translation of “Advice from a Caterpillar”, which is the title of chapter five of Alice in Wonderland. But the drawing above doesn’t need a translation. John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll were a classic combination, like Quentin Blake and J.P. Martin or Thomas Henry and Richmal Crompton. Tenniel drew fantastic things in a matter-of-fact way, which was just right.

But that makes me wonder about Ratschläge einer Raupe. In German, Rat-schlag means “piece of advice” and Ratschläge is the plural. At first glance, the title is more fun in German: it alliterates and trips off the the tongue in a way the English doesn’t. And Schlag literally means “blow, stroke”, which captures the behaviour of the caterpillar well. Like many of the characters Alice encounters in Wonderland, he is a prickly and aggressive interlocutor. “Advice from a Caterpillar” is plain by comparison.

So perhaps that makes it better: it’s a matter-of-fact title for a surreal chapter. Tenniel’s art echoes that.

The Conqueror Term

True story. I saw a copy of Rub Out the Words (2012) on a library shelf. It’s a collection of letters by core counter-cultural colossus William S. Burroughs. I pulled the book off the shelf, opened it, and began to search for a hit of heresiarchal heroin. Exactly 23 seconds later, my eyes fell on this phantasmagoric phraseology:

I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages.

I was stunned. Exactly 23 seconds. Well, I didn’t actually time it, but it would have been exactly 23 seconds if you choose the right base. And it was round-about 23 seconds in base 10. So I think reality was trying to tell me something: that Burroughs was part of the Hive Mind. He used a toxic term that good writers shouldn’t use – never, nunca, nohow, nowhere.

And it wasn’t the sole example in the book, I have since learnt. Here, then, are my suggestions for how Burroughs should have rubbed out the offending words and replaced them with something shorter and less vague (the final two examples are by the book’s editor and by someone Burroughs is quoting):

• I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages. → in a legal system
• All this is quite possible in terms of existing techniques. → with / by existing techniques
• I am not talking in terms of a thousand years. I am talking in NOW terms. → not talking of a thousand years. I am talking NOW.
• I am thinking in terms of the no-paying far-out magazines like Yugen and Kulchur. → thinking of / about no-paying far-out magazines
• When two or more letters covered the same ground, I selected the best in terms of quality of writing and completeness of thought. → in quality of writing
• Mr Burroughs writes enthusiastically about apomorphine treatment but I do not feel his enthusiasm is justified in terms of published results. → by published results

Okay, there are a lot of letters in the collection and Burroughs himself used “in terms of” only four (or five) times, which isn’t too bad. However, each use is an echt Guardianism, so Burroughs was undoubtedly a victim of the Conqueror Term, like millions of others, then and now. But it isn’t only English-speakers who can be victims of the Conqueror Term: it has infected usage in French too. This is from a speech by the new French president Emmanuel Macron:

… c’est ensuite les routes des trafics multiples qui nécessitent des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité et de coordination régionale … – Emmanuel Macron empêtré dans une folle polémique, Mediaguinee, 10/vii/2017.

… it is then the roads of multiple trafficking which also require answers in terms of security and regional coordination … – French President Emmanuel Macron is in the middle of a social media firestorm, Vox, 10/vii/2017.

The French and English can be shortened in the same way:

• des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité → des réponses aussi en sécurité
• answers in terms of security → in security

Macron, as you’d expect, is part of the Hive Mind too. He and many other Francophones have succumbed to the Conqueror Term, as you can see from these graphs at Google nGrams (“en termes du” behaves in an interesting way):

En termes de

En termes du

But there are termicides in French too:

Attention, on confond souvent la signification de “en termes de”. Cette expression signifie « dans le vocabulaire de », « dans le langage de » et ne veut pas dire « en ce qui concerne », « en matière de », « sur le plan de ». Cette confusion est sûrement due à l’expression anglaise “in terms of” qui elle a le sens de “en matière de”. Faut-il écrire “en termes de” ou “en terme de” ?, La Langue Française, Nicolas Le Roux, août 31, 2015.

Take care: people often confuse the meaning of “en termes de”. This expression means “in the vocabulary of”, “in the language of”, and does not mean “in what concerns”, “in the matter of”, “after the form of”. This confusion is surely due to the English expression “in terms of”, which has the sense of “in the matter of”. (My translation, so not reliable)

Things were worse than I thought. Pero… ¡La lucha continúa!


Elsewhere other-posted:

The Conqueror Worm — the title of the incendiary intervention above is of course a reference to the famous poem by Edgar Allan In Terms Of Poe
Paradigms Loused

Bash the Pash

An heretical Guardianista keyly critiquizes a core component of Guardianese:

I recently considered nominating for a board position on a professional association to which I belong, so I had a look at the biographical statements of the incumbents. One claimed to be “passionate about helping individuals, businesses, and communities thrive”, another declared “a particular passion for thought leadership and executive profiling”, and another revealed “a passion for social inclusion”. Yet another claimed “a passion about creating valuable career development opportunities for the profession”. The best was the one that stated, without irony, “a passion for working on meaningful projects”.

In days gone by, job applicants listed hobbies. These days, it appears candidates are expected to declare, not merely interests or things they like doing, but things they are allegedly passionate about. — Being enthusiastic is no longer enough. Now we must all be passionate, Paul Begley, The Guardian, 13/vii/2016.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Reds under the Thread
Titus Graun — Heresy, Homotextuality, Hive-Mind
Oh My Guardian

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #48

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Vois la ReinePhilip’s Moon Observer’s Guide, Peter Grego (Philip’s 2015)

Gods of FireVolcano Discoveries: A Photographic Journey around the World, Tom Pfeiffer and Ingrid Smet (New Holland 2015)

Chemical TalesRocks and Minerals, Ronald Louis Bonewitz (Dorling Kindersley 2012)

Knyghtes of the RoyalmeMalory: Works, ed. Eugène Vinaver (Oxford University Press 1977)

Alfredo to ZinedineFootball’s Great Heroes and Entertainers, Jimmy Greaves with Norman Giller (Hodder & Stoughton 2007)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Don’t Do Dot…

It’s a mistake to think that Guardianese, the optimal dialect of keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, mandates optionizing on a permanent basis for the pretentious and polysyllabic. Yes, Guardianistas are addicted to phrases like “in terms of” and “prior to”, but they also like urgently throbbing monosyllables like “key”, “core” and “spike”.

These are unnatural words, taken from headlines, not from normal English. They reveal an important truth: simplicity can be pretentious too. The two aspects of Guardianese come together in phrases like “key indicator” and “core metric”. I would say that “vital sign” and “important statistic” are better and more natural English, but you can’t tell that by counting syllables.

And sometimes Guardianese doesn’t use any syllables at all…  Guardianistas also like the stylistic trick of trailing dots. I find it cheap and irritating, so I’m glad that one of my favourite writers thought the same long ago. In his essay “Stories I Have Tried to Write”, M.R. James (1862-1936) said this:

In parenthesis, many common objects may be made the vehicles of retribution, and where retribution is not called for, of malice. Be careful how you handle the packet you pick up in the carriage-drive, particularly if it contains nail parings and hair. Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone… (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more……) (“Stories I Have Tried To Write”, 1929)

In short: Don’t do dot…


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Titus Graun
Reds under the Thread

Terminal Teraticity…

Americotrop-ism: n. literally, a tendency or habit of moving towards America; hence, a tendency or habit of adopting American culture, vocabulary and usage when one is not oneself American. | -ist, -ic(al) [Americ(a) + -o- + tropism, on the analogy of phototropism, chemotropism, geotropism, etc]

• “The Guardian-reading community displays a marked Americotropism.”

Term-in-ator!

V. disappointed by China Miéville on BBC Radio 4’s Book Club (Sunday 1st November). It took him eight minutes to say “in terms of”.

Terminal Logorrhoea

An SJW with a PhD writes:

It’s probably about time to collect all the issues and discussion of the 2015 Hugo Awards into one big post that is, at least in terms of what I have to say, a definitive take on it…. Three days after unveiling his slate of nominees, Torgersen wrote an essay explaining the necessity of the slate in terms of the “unreliability” of contemporary science fiction… The easiest mistake to make when trying to understand fascists is to think that they are best described in terms of a philosophy…. As a PhD in English with no small amount of training in postmodernism[,] I feel some qualification to speak here… and he does explain his beliefs in part in terms of a religious experience… Let us view it this way, since, in terms of the Hugos, we now have no other choice…. That covers the actual response in terms of the Hugos…. Your beliefs are horrible. You’re horrible. You’re a nasty, cruel little bully, and I do not like you…. in terms of brilliant, Hugo-worthy stuff that spits in the face of everything Theodore Beale loves… Norman Spinrad’s 1972 novel The Iron Dream, which imagines an alternate history where Hitler became a hack sci-fi writer in America, is probably the most notable in terms of just how much it anticipates this mess… afrofuturism, an artistic movement that uses the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to try to conceive of the African Diaspora not in terms of its tragic past but in terms of the generative potential of the future…. As a song, “Electric Lady” is an anthem in praise of Cindi Mayweather, long on braggadocio, but framed in terms of Monáe’s carefully worked out vision of black female sexuality… — Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: An Analysis of Theodore Beale and his Supporters, Philip Sandifer, 21/iv/2015.


Elsewhere other-posted:

Ex-term-in-ate!