Friday, 23 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.


Log-uhr-ree-uh. Noun: excessive, uncontrollable, or incoherent talkativeness or wordiness. Can also be spelt logorrhea, though we prefer the given version, as it is closer to the root and easier to remember the spelling of: LOGO plus the curious double R (RR), plus HOE (as in the garden implement) and finally, A. Applied mainly to the spoken word, it can also be used in cases of writing.

From the Greek, logo, a combining form originally meaning word or speech (therefore not just one word singular but implying also: saying, speech, discourse, thought, proportion, ratio or reckoning); plus rrhoia, another combining form meaning flow or stream, from the original rhein (as in the German river of that name). Related words: logorrhoeic, adjective. A logomaniac (bipolar disorder) would be said to indulge in logomania.

Rheum, as in rheumy or watery eyes, is from the same root, also giving us rheumatics and rheumatism (no, no, come back! We mean it gives us the word, not the ailment. You won’t catch anything from these columns except a slight case of booklearning, with a very negligible risk of some faint amusement along the way.) In fact, the -rrhoia suffix appears in a number of our more distasteful bodily reactions, such as catarrh (see how much easier that is to spell correctly, once you know the root with its double R), from kata, meaning down, so literally a downflow. And there are a good few others too, but delicacy forbids us to include them herein. And where would we Library folk be without the word, both noun and verb, (and, indeed, the thing itself) catalogue? From the Greek again, kata + logos. Kata can have a number of implications, including down (as above), away, off (catalectic), against (category), according to (catholic) and thoroughly, as in catalogue, therefore meaning to run completely through. For any pedants out there (it’s not just us, surely?), you should always remain constantly on your toes, ready to step in at a moment’s notice, for it can only be a matter of time before someone within earshot will blithely use the word logo in reference to those hateful mercantile devices so ubiquitously emblazoned upon almost every item of clothing you may have been considering purchasing. To begin with, they will almost certainly have pronounced it “low-go” (Tsk!Tsk! It’s from Greek, thus “logg-oh.”) But, strictly and fundamentally, the term they require should be logotype or logogram. The importance of constantly remaining on your toes will now become self-evident for, having selflessly imparted such corrective insight, beating an extremely hasty retreat from the situation will become of paramount necessity in most cases. The Americanism, “smart alec”, may possibly be traced to one Alec Hoag, a celebrated pimp, thief, and confidence man operating out of New York City in the 1840's, who robbed people whilst they slept.

This time’s True Tale concerns Salman Rushdie, one of this country’s most celebrated logorrhoeicians, though even his prolific output pales somewhat in comparison to Dickens, an acknowledged past master of the good thick tome, but Dickens himself lags well behind the writer whom many believe to have come up with the longest book in history with À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Sadly, however, for both them and Monsieur Proust himself (on the right), they are, in fact, wrong, as the prize for this has to go to Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, (generally said to be) by Madeleine de Scudéry, published in ten parts between 1649 and 1654, and weighing in at a colossal 2,100,000 words. Proust only managed 1,267,069 (or so, depending on translation). It must have been truly galling to have spent so many years labouring over the writing of it only to be informed that, ‘Sorry, Marcel, me old mate, this life’s work of yours, it’s a long ‘un but it’s only the second longest, I’m afraid.’ Just the sort of thing to make you want to lock yourself away in a cork-lined room, we’d have thought.

Back with Salman Rushdie, down at the Gallery the word had gone round that the great pensmith had accepted an invitation to attend the forthcoming private view of an exhibition by noted Indian artist Vivan Sundaram and so a frisson of excitement had instantaneously shot about the place like unbridled electricity. (Odd word that, frisson: from frigere, to be cold, thus a shudder or shiver, but in a somewhat underwhelming way, rather like the kind of static shock you get from a balloon.) Though accompanying this, and by no means negligible, was the uneasy thrill of knowing that the fatwa threat of death was still very much active and in place then. On a more personal level, one happened to be, and still is, an aspiring novelist oneself (aspiring: a word herein meaning entirely unpublished and, for the most part, pretty much unread), not to mention being something of a logorrhoeician in one’s own right, having conjured up a work of some quarter of a million words, which includes two sentences that run to four thousand words each (so, you see, that minor problem of producing a dissertation is nothing to be daunted by; the real challenge there would be to make of it a single sentence). What an opportunity this was then, to be sure! A fellow writer and an established author, right here in our midst! But, then again, even if the great man were to spare a few moments of his precious time, what would one say to him? Certainly not mentioning the novel or anything quite so gauche as that would have to be Fundamental Rule Number One, especially if one happens to find oneself humbly stationed behind the bar at the time, pouring out glasses of wine for visitors. Whenever the chance presents itself to possibly meet someone of name and celebrity, the initial ambition is always and ever to be conversationally dazzling, to coin some witty epigram or other and to be in some fashion memorable and thus linger on in that mind, perhaps as far as, who knows, into actual print? Then the dampener of stark reality settles around like fog, at which the desire then levels down to avoiding completely any utterances that might provoke in our esteemed personage’s mind the departing thoughts of: ‘That bloke in there – what an utter herbert!’ Therefore the only thing to do was to be natural, as much oneself as possible and, above all, don’t rehearse a speech in advance.

The arrival of Salman Rushdie was first preceded by the appearance of two of the most gigantic, brawny and musclebound specimens of manhood, of the type that generally go through doors sideways on, judging from the sheer breadth of them, who were cunningly disguised in dickie bows and dinner jackets so that nobody would suspect they were actually bodyguards, and then the great man swept in. And, for the entire evening, he never so much as cast even the faintest of cursory glances in this direction, seemingly more absorbed by the artworks on display than the potential literary prowess of the over-intrusive barman he was so roundly ignoring. And then it happened. He’s coming this way! He’s definitely coming this way! This is it! For all the mental adjurations going on within, to be calm, to act naturally, the mind was in a positive foment of uproar. What to say? What to say? And then there he was. At which point a frail and querulous voice was heard to say:

‘Would you like a glass of wine?’

As there were only the two of us anywhere near the vicinity, and he hadn’t said it, the culprit was painfully obvious to all. But, quick as lightning, without even pausing to consider his riposte, the great man of letters came straight back, delivering his retort with as much deadpan insouciance as one might have expected.

‘Yes, please,’ he said.

Well, this was no time to be outdone in the high stakes wit and repartee department, now was it? So, with matching speed and alacrity, and with it springing fullyformed and almost unbidden to the lips, back came the response:

‘I’ll just get a fresh bottle, then.’

Marvellous! You couldn’t make it up. And just as living today as it was when it was taking place all those years ago, and set down precisely as it happened, word for word and blow on blow. He may have added a quiet ‘Thank you,’ somewhere to the proceedings, once the atmosphere had had time to cool, but we’re not in the business of embellishing lilies here. Most disappointingly, however, and much to our lasting dismay, the scene has not yet been worked up into a dramatic episode or interlude, in paperback or otherwise. Not yet. Not so far as we know, anyway …

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment or question about the library. These are moderated.