Sunday, 19 February 2012

Six Pirates of Verona

In a little town in South West Scotland is The Bookshop. Whenever I go to Galloway a trip to The Bookshop (and the bookshops) is completely inevitable. And there's always treasure to find. Most recently I found the most awesome book.

It's not in great condition: it was a cheap book in 1827, and the year's have not done it any favours. I'm clearly going to have to be careful about using it, the boards of the cover are fairly bashed, and possibly mouse-nibbled, and there's the liver-spots common to old books and old ladies. But it's amazing. It is:









which is practically a Shakespeare play in itself. The point of this is that I can tell you 'demi-cannon' is used once, and it's metaphorical, referring to sleeves. Apparently 'lemon' only occurs once, in Love's Labours Lost. I can even tell you the page numbers. Which is the rub. They refer to a particular edition of the collected works, printed before 1827. But of course, the good thing about Shakespeare is that there's also the Act, Scene and Line reference to get you there, even if you're using the Penguin Classics version.

Unfortunately the six pirates are all deeply disappointing in their context. The real prize of this book is the sheer range of words collected within. This was not an author who stuck to his basic 20000 words. Many of them just appear the once. The famous wind-up from Othello, for example, 'an old black ram is tupping your white ewe' is one of just three uses of the forms of the verb - all from the same play. Too rude? Too blunt?

I shall leave you with an exhortation from The Tempest: 'Cut his wezand with thy knife!'.

Yeah, I don't know either.


Monday, 6 February 2012

Top Totty

Okay, time to weigh in. Mostly because the callers on Jeremy Vine make my blood boil. It's kind of language related but not entirely.

This is, in case you've had your head buried in the sand for the last fortnight, about a beer in the House of Commons bar. Called Top Totty, it has a picture of a woman dressed in a white bikini and wearing bunny ears carrying two pints. Last week a female MP complained about it, inadvertently raising up a storm around her.

Two counter-arguments to her objections have been raised:
1) you're having a sense of humour failure.
2) 'If the position was reversed and it was a picture of a topless man, that would be fine, so you're just being over-sensitive.'

These are the usual objections to any woman complaining of sexism.

Let's deal with (2) first. The situations are not comparable! Men as a whole have not been objectified. They have not been systematically treated as less equal, less intelligent and less worthy of being a member of the ruling class because of their gender. Therefore such an image does not reinforce centuries of stereotypes and oppression.

(1) I really hate it when feminists get accused of not having a sense of humour. I especially hate it when women accuse us of that. It's another tool used to divide us. It's almost impossible to counter, and it is exactly the argument that countless bullies have always used: 'it's just a joke, what are you so het up about?'

The essential point about this particular incident is not the beer in general. I probably wouldn't have a problem with a beer called Top Totty that wasn't accompanied by that particular image. But it is completely inappropriate in the House of Commons Bar. Women are vastly in the minority in the House of Commons, and have to encounter, deal with and triumph over a vast array of sexist insults and behaviour on top of the normal bullying, ahem, sorry, debating, in the House. Don't believe me? You know that much of what is said in the House does not get picked up by the microphones? All the rhubarb rhubarb type comments. Deborah Cameron tells about one of her students' research projects that discovered the 'rhubarb' when women MPs speak is likely to be 'boobs'. Repeated over and over. Because a) that's a valid political argument and b) that's the most important thing about women. Remember David Cameron's not too long ago comment telling a female MP to 'calm down dear'? Men who react are dominant, assertive, fighting for their constituents. Women are hysterical, over-reacting and oh, suffering a sense of humour failure.

So that's it. Very tangentially related to language. But the old adage 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' is simply not true. Words have power. Power to keep the oppressed in their place.

p.s. The race analogy - not going to go there, because that really is off-topic but 1) it's a fair analogy, ish and 2) it's not worth making because all the attention changes focus.