Friday, 2 May 2014

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates. With a True Tale by way of illustration. 

Mendacity 

Men-das-it-ee: Noun: lying, untruthful; the act of not telling the truth; the tendency to lie; an instance of lying or falsehood.

From the Latin, menda, mendax, fault, blame, mistake or error. Related words: mendacious, adjective; mendaciously, adverb; mendaciousness, noun.

Both emend and amend are based in the same root but have slightly different meanings: emend is to correct and revise (a complete text), while amend is to make minor changes. Mendicant also has its root there: meaning beggar or begging, from mendicus, which originally meant “cripple,” as in faulty legs (at least in Roman eyes, being none too PC, as we know), and thus the associations with begging.
 

It is in the Palace of Westminster where this word comes to the fore, seeing “unparliamentary language” is frowned upon and so too, presumably, is any tenuous grip on what the rest of us refer to as reality. Calling another member a liar is a definite no-no, so they accuse them of mendacity instead. Other words that are strictly taboo therein include: blackguard, coward, guttersnipe, hooligan, ignoramus, rat, swine, stoolpigeon, traitor, slimy and wart.



However, we must leave the heady and rarefied atmosphere of Parliament behind us now as we journey backwards in time (though still well within living memory) and far to the North, all the way to the little market town of Worksop (from the Norse: Works=Fortification; Hope=Hill, thus Fortified Hill) for this time’s True Tale and to experience for ourselves Mendacity in Action, where we will encounter the undisputed all-time heavyweight champion of the art in the form of one Jim Cannon. By the time we meet him, Jim has already acquired the additional soubriquet of Betcha, born of the fact that he was not only a supreme master in the field of porkies and whoppers of a wholly implausible nature, but also because he was much given to the habit of toting around on his person £2,000 in hard cash (a staggering sum back then), lest anyone should be rash enough to challenge or dispute the veracity of any of his highly improbable tales. Which was pretty often, actually. At which point, out would come the fat wad of notes to be slapped down hard and emphatic upon the table, followed by the defiant cry of “Betcha! Betcha!” Strangely, nobody ever took on the wager. Whilst much of the Cannon canon deservedly takes it place on the Rolls of Magnificent Mendaciousness, there is one in particular that stands upon the shoulders of giants.



It was while Jim was serving Queen and Country during the Second World War – and already we’ve drifted into the realms of doubt – and one especially foggy night Jim found himself on sentry duty, marching back and forth with rifle at the ready, a model soldier and credit to the uniform. Then, all of a sudden, footsteps are heard approaching steadily towards him and, from out of the swirling wreaths, a shadowy figure emerges. At once, Jim is at action stations and issues the regulation challenge:

“Halt! Who goes there? Friend or foe?”

A gravid pause follows and then a voice comes floating back out of the darkness:

“Don’t you recognise me, Jim? It’s Monty!”

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