Tuesday, 31 March 2015

"You Said... We Did" Our responses to your feedback 8

Our annual joint Library/IT Service survey is now available - please contribute and give us your views (you could also win John Lewis vouchers!).

Over the past few weeks we have been letting you know what we have done in response to your comments from last year's survey. Here's the eighth, and final, instalment. Please complete this year's survey and give us more ideas of what you would like us to improve or start doing.

If you missed our previous You Said .. We Did posts, here they are 

You said:
“Easier access/clearer signposting to subject specific databases”
"Not aware of what the Library has for my subject"
"Better guidance about which online resources to use"

We did:
Created LibGuides, Library guides by subject, linked from the Library home page and the eLibrary page. All the useful resources the Library has for your subject are linked from these, together with contact details for your subject librarian and much more. Take a look at the one for your subject now http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/subguides

Friday, 27 March 2015

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates.


Kohr-i-juh-buhl: Adjective: capable of, or submitting to, correction

Related forms: corrigibility, noun; corrigibly, adverb; corrigibleness, noun

From Latin, corrigere, to make straight, which is equivalent to cor- (as with com- and con-), a prefix meaning with, together or completely, plus regere, to keep straight, guide, lead or rule. Thus giving us something that can be, or is willing to be, corrected. Alas, corrigible, as a word, has sadly slipped from favour and it is now far more likely – especially if you’re anything like us, and particularly if you’ve enjoyed the same kind of kind of doting partner as we have – that you will have encountered the term (well, more accurately, had inflicted upon you) in its negative form: incorrigible. Uncorrectable, obviously. Very much with the sense of being “hopelessly depraved” or an utterly lost cause. Not to be confused with irascible, however, which managed, on one memorable occasion (at least), to find itself sharing the same sentence with incorrigible, along with a veritable plethora of other such adjectival pejoratives (some infinitely less printable and far more wounding), simply because the blackguard they referred to had had the sheer audacity to quibble over the justice of his cheek having just been soundly warmed via the swift administration of her well-aimed palm. Have no sympathy for him whatsoever, ladies or, indeed, gentlemen, for the fellow thoroughly deserved what came so rapidly and unexpectedly in his direction: after all, there he had sat for the better part of an hour with his jacket on, ready to go out, while she was in the bathroom “applying the finishing touches” and yet, when she finally does emerge, resplendent, with her inexorable inquiry as to “how do I look?” despite having been furnished with sixty full minutes to devote entirely to amassing superlatives to fling about, all he can manage is “fine.” Given the brutal and instantaneous aftermath of such a lapse, “stunning” may well have been a good deal more apposite. All of which is an example of incorrigible in its modern sense: beneath contempt. But we digress so, before we do start to wander off in search of a term that means “bitterly anecdotal”, let’s get back to the point, shall we?

Both these words – corrigible and incorrigible – came into being around the early to mid-fourteenth century, as did a whole host of kindred terminology that sprang up from the same regere root and which have a similar kind of resonance. So, before we find out what those other related ones are, it might be as well to have a quick peek back in time to see if we can discover a possible reason why they might have needed so many words for situations requiring a firm guiding hand and a bit of straightening out of wrongsters and ne’er-do-wells.

Unless you did happen to be an umbrella vendor, things didn’t get off to the best of starts when, in 1315, a wet spring was followed by a rotten summer and then a decidedly miserable autumn, all of which helped to kickstart the Great Famine, which would last until 1317 (with Europe not fully recovering until 1322), during which time millions of people starved to death or were driven to extreme levels of crime, infanticide and even cannibalism. No sooner had the skies begun to clear, the sun come out again and the people start to emerge at last from beneath their dripping eaves to congratulate themselves that they “might just get lucky enough with the weather to manage a week in the caravan at Skegness this Whitsuntide,” than up pops the Medieval equivalent of Michael Fish to advise them to not to pack away the winter woollies quite yet because things were about to turn decidedly nippy for a while. For the next five hundred years, in fact. From 1350 to 1850, as the Medieval Warm Period waned away to leave the Little Ice Age (which was neither an ice age nor little, with scientists still bickering about when it actually got started). It might have eventually provided Pieter Brueghel the Elder with an idea for something new to paint but it was still a bit of a bodyblow all round. Especially seeing Europe had only just got over the ravages of the Black Death, which did for another third of its population (possibly two hundred million) during an outbreak lasting from 1347-1351, though it was called the Great Pestilence back then and only started to be known as the Black Death around 1631 time and in England not until 1823. In fairness to rats everywhere, it should be made abundantly clear that it was actually fleas that did the damage and, whilst they were at it, they also did for the rats (or the gerbils, depending on how Norwegian you’re feeling) that had so obligingly carried them all the way from the Orient, which left the fleas themselves with nothing to feed on, so they died out too. This is all starting to sound a tad Ukip to us: rather like they hadn’t really thought the whole thing through.

Some time before that, however, 1327 in fact, Edward III had ascended to the English throne and, what with the invention of a highly-improved longbow and him being the sort of fellow you wouldn’t want to be accidentally spilling the pint of down the alehouse if you could help it, he was simply itching for a fight and, just to make sure his archers would be good and ready when the time came to get stuck in, he even banned football for a while. Now all he needed was any old lame excuse for giving some poor wretch and his countrymen a bit of a bloody nose. And, as luck would have it, Charles IV of France just happened to peg out at exactly the right moment (1328), so Edward was able to dust off the traditional English claim to the French throne, which he believed he was entitled to via his mother, who was none other than Isabella (the She-Wolf of France and about as incorrigible a piece of work as you’re likely to come across in a crown-wearing situation), her parents (and thus his nan and grandpa) being Queen Joan I of Navarre and King Philip IV, with her three brothers all having had a go at the kinging business too. Which was why Edward thought it was about his turn now, keep it in the family and all that caper. Though he didn’t so much leap into action as dillydally and prevaricate and drag his heels for simply ages. For nigh on ten years, as it goes, until the French decided they were going to be good pals with the Scots, upon whom Edward was just then inflicting another instalment of the Hammering Of work instigated by his other grandfather, Edward Longshanks. That did the trick. Now that he had finally summoned up the energy for it, the ball he set rolling was a war that would continue for the next hundred and sixteen years, though they did have to pack up for a while when the Black Death was in town, which is maybe why they ended up calling it just the Hundred Years’ War.

In 1381, along came the Peasants’ Revolt, which all started because the new king, Richard II, still only a boy of fourteen, needed to add to the dwindling coffers in order to fund what was proving to be a cash-guzzling Hundred Years’ War, so he thought to himself, I know, let’s impose a poll tax on the already beleaguered citizenry, poll being the old word for head. Well, strictly speaking, it meant the hair of the head (or even of a beast), but signified “the many”, as it comes from the Greek, polloi (as in hoi polloi, in which the hoi actually means “the,” – thus, referring to the common people as “the hoi polloi” (as some snooty writers are wont to do) merely shows that they don’t know what the term means (they are effectively saying “the the many”) and, by extension, they don’t know what they’re talking about – and it’s also where we get all those words beginning with poly (of which, dare we say, there are many), such as polysyllabic, polymath and so on. Poll, as in collection of votes, wasn’t used until 1620, and as a canvassing of opinion not until 1902. Even poll tax didn’t come about until 1690, so all young Richard II can have said is, “get some cash off of everyone, and be quick about it.” Greed and avarice were incorrigible vices in him and, in the end, they would do for him. Meanwhile, however, his tax-gatherer, John Bampton, had arrived in Essex and decided to ask the people of Fobbing (no kidding) why they hadn’t yet coughed up the lucre, to which they said they already had but Bampton, probably aware that the word fobbing comes from an archaic term for to cheat or trick, wasn’t having any of that and told ‘em so, at which unkind words were exchanged, one thing led to another, things soon got pretty ugly and, before anyone really knew what was happening, the Peasants (who mostly weren’t peasants at all) found themselves stamping Londonward to sort things out with the King. Who, when he heard they were on the way, valiantly hid in the Tower, hoping they’d just turn round and go away again. When they didn’t, he eventually had to come out and meet their leader, Wat Tyler, at Smithfield (smooth field) and, during negotiations, the Mayor of London, William Walworth, ended up stabbing Tyler, who was then beheaded and his head stuck on a pole (a poll on a pole, one might say, but won’t). Tyler only had a small blade, whereas Walworth had a whacking great sword to flourish, plus he’d come armourplated, almost as if he’d been expecting a fracas. Or intending it all along. He’s still got a London road named in his honour, as reward for being the murdering mayor, though these days a Mayor of London is highly unlikely to indulge in any such activities and would probably confine himself to cynical mendacity about no ticket office closures in order to gain a second term, reneging almost instantly, once he’d got what he wanted. Which might be an idea he lifted directly from 1381, because Richard told the gathering of hoi polloi that he’d agree to all their demands, just so long as they went away quietly and disbanded. So they did. It seems the Boy King must’ve had his fingers crossed because, by November, he had recanted all his promises and had fifteen hundred of the rebels executed for good measure.

Six hundred years later, a deluded and entrenched government would find themselves thinking how unfair it was that “a family of thirteen paid only the same rates as the little old lady living on her own next door” and so (rather than asking what’s this greyhaired old biddy doing with sole occupancy of a property big enough to house thirteen – a problem they would only address many years later with their infinitely equitable Bedroom Tax) they decided the best thing to do all round was to introduce a similar idea in their cuddly-sounding Community Charge. Nothing could go wrong this time. Well, there was a bit of skirmishing, rioting, uprising and general lawlessness for a while but it all ended up happily: with the Tax being scrapped and a grasping old power-crazed baggage being unceremoniously booted out of power. By her own party.

And, to the Medieval mind, the reason behind all this death and disaster* was perfectly obvious: it was all down to sin and fornication. Which, ironically enough, was what did for Tories too, after they’d dabbled with their own version of the poll tax: sin and fornication. Oh, and something to do with a Chelsea strip, gratuitous adultery, toe-sucking (the mind fairly boggles) and an actress, all of which would, ironically, later be proven to be no more than the vile imagination of another hideous sinner and fornicator now rotting happily in jail. What it all boiled down to was that, if the fourteenth centurions were going to avoid another infestation of Famine, Pestilence, Plague and Conflict, a firm hand would be needed on the tiller. Which meant they’d also be needing some words for what they were up to and to let folk know what was going on. So what were they?

Well, if you suspected that correct was in there amongst them, you’d be, well, correct. And direct, as in to tell people what to do, set them straight kind of thing. And erect, of course, to stand up straight. And rectify, don’t forget, which they did quite a lot of, usually involving dangling ropes or stakes and faggots in some form or other. Then there’re rectitude (uprightness or straightness of character, which you needed if you wanted to avoid flogging, burning or hanging) and rector, the top bloke in a parish. Rectum, strictly speaking, is also from the same root, but here there was a bit of a botch-up: it refers to the lower (or straight) intestine, so called by a Greek physician bod named Galen, the mistake coming “because he dissected only animals whose rectum (in contradistinction to that of man) is really straight.” So Klein reckons, anyhow. Even right, as in correct, comes to us that way, the Old English being riht, meaning just or proper. Right, in association with left, originally only referred to hands and did, indeed, mean the correct hand, or stronger. The Latin for right hand is dexter, the Greek being dexios, from which we arrive at dexterity, a skilful right hand, while in heraldry dexter means on the right, the opposite (left) being sinister. French for right is droit, as in adroit. Right in the political sense of “conservative” was first recorded in 1794, which is the only sense in which that lot ever will be.

Then, of course, there’s a whole bunch of your unalloyed bossing and ruling ones descended from regere, like regiment, regimen and regime, all fourteenth century. Regulate, regulation and regular, even rectangle, originally a triangle with an upright (rect, or right) angle. At which we arrive at the daddy of ‘em all in this sphere: rex, the regere root more obvious in the feminine version, regina, and which has spawned a set of its own offspring, such as regalia (once just the togs and trappings of an actual royal, now any old finery); regent, the ruler in place of an absent, underage or, in the case of George III, barking mad, monarch, and as in Regent Street, a street of brickbuilt terraced houses that the ostentatious owners don’t seem to realise are simply brickbuilt terraced houses with a fancy kind of cladding, just like those hideous monstrosities every street in every town boasted not so very long ago; reign too, though not rein; and regal, kinglike. Oh, and region, fourteenth century too, “a tract of land of a considerable but indefinite extent,” (a little kingdom, as it were), thus giving us the world’s most inaccurate unit of measurement: “in the region of.”

Library folk are currently jumping up and down, wondering if and when we’re finally going to mention one of their very own specimens of shibboleth, by which we mean, of course, corrigendum (noun) an error to be corrected, especially in print; plural corrigenda: a list of corrections of errors in a book or other publication, also called erratum (by hoi polloi), a slip of paper inserted into a book after printing, listing errors and corrections. All of which just about covers it, we think …

*The makers of the fourteenth century have asked us to point out that it was by no means all bad news back then. In fact, that’s when the Italian Renaissance started to get going, helped on its way by, of all things, a banking crisis. Fairly makes you want to spit, don’t it? The Italians have a banking crisis and end up with Leonardo, Michelangelo and some of the finest works of the classical period; we have one and do we get? A truly appallingly dismal and utterly inept coalition government, that’s what. The fact that we somehow ended up with not only the heartless Tories but the unprincipled LibDems as well is rather like being savaged by a poodle and then being told it’s got mange …

With the Renaissance, what happened was this. As we’ve seen, first there was the Great Famine, then Black Death, followed by the Little Ice Age setting in, all of which led to a European recession. The Hundred Years’ War had already been disrupting trade all over the place and then Edward III – the Crècy bloke mentioned earlier – started coming across all Greek by deciding not to pay back his debts, which meant that the two largest Florentine banks collapsed, those of the Bardi and Peruzzi, all during the time of Dante, Giotto and Petrarch (who then had the bare-faced cheek to call the preceding nine hundred years the Dark Ages). Now that there weren’t the opportunities for businessmen to invest their money in dubious banking schemes, they thought they might as well splash out on a spot of art and culture instead (this is all starting to sound like quite astute thinking now) and, before anyone knew where they were, up popped the House of Medici who, amongst other things, provided no less than four popes from their ranks, only to later fall back to the bad old ways. By becoming bankers. It was Shakespeare who said (in Henry VI), “the first thing we do, let’s kill all bankers.” Or was it lawyers? Whichever, he definitely had the right idea …

[ALL opinions expressed herein are entirely personal]


Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera: By Movie still scan ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hunters in the Snow: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Edward Counting the Dead at Crecy: By Virgil Master (illuminator) (Jean Froissart, Chroniques (Vol. I)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Walworth killing Wat Tyler: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thatcher in the White House: By White House Photographic Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Four Horsemen: Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Galen: Pierre-Roch Vigneron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Execution of Lady Jane Grey: Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Poodle: By Belinda Hankins Miller (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Virgil & Dante in Hell: By Eugene Delacroix (26 April 1798 –13 August 1863) Jonathanriley at en.wikipedia Later version(s) were uploaded by Jappalang at en.wikipedia. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Have your say on the Library and IT Services (and win John Lewis vouchers!)

Have your say and win £100 in John Lewis vouchers! 

This year's Joint Library/ITS Survey is now online and we want to know what you think.

Please help us improve our services by taking part in this survey at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/mybirkbeck/survey_lib_it/

If you would like to see what we have done in response to comments from last years' survey, check our "You said ... We did" blog posts

Thank you and good luck in the prize draw!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Email notices - new and old

Library users will be familiar with our regular emails relating to items you have borrowed or have requested. From today we are introducing an additional email which is a confirmation of renewal, whether these are done online, via self-service or at the library issue and help desks. The emails show the date and time of renewal, the title of the item and the new due date.

As with all our emails this is an in-house solution so there are a few constraints that mean that we can’t send you a confirmation email a few seconds after you have renewed.  Emails will be sent out once an hour, gathering up all the renewals in the previous hour, so if you renew at 11.01 you will get an email shortly after 12.00. If you renew at 11.58 you will still get an email shortly after 12.00.  There may also be a very rare occasion when renewing a number of items at, say, 10.59 where some items get a timestamp of 11.00. This would result in two confirmation emails. As ever if you have any concerns it is as well to check your account online via the library catalogue. If an item hasn’t renewed it may be that it has been requested by another reader.

With this new service it seems a good time to go over what emails we send, and when.

We currently send out 16 types of emails each morning from 09.15, some of which are fairly special relating to One Day Loans and Inter Library Loans. We also send out notices to alert borrowers if an item they have out has been requested. If additional requests are placed this will prompt further emails, but it is important to note that the due date isn’t changed. Of course if you have finished with the item then returning it for another reader to use is no bad thing.

Reminder emails go out two days before an item is due back and include all the information required to enable you to renew it promptly and thereby avoid the risk of any fines. If you don’t renew or return then a 1st overdue will follow a couple of days after the item was due back, followed by increasingly sternly worded messages a week apart until we send out a Billing Notice and start the process of replacing the item. In an ideal world of course we would never send any of these. If you do have problems with renewing or returning an item do please contact us. Another notice we would prefer not to send out is the Fines email which shows any fines accrued recently.

Having sent out all these the system has a rest (or did until the new emails were introduced) until 13.15 when the notices alerting readers who have a requested item to collect that it is available. We delay the sending of these just to ensure that the books are definitely on the shelf and avoid any wasted journeys.

Sending all this out by email allows us to provide far more in the way of reminders and notices than when we had a purely paper based system, and of course saves us a lot of money on post! We hope that you find it all useful. One final thing to mention is that once we send out the emails we can’t guarantee their delivery – a bit like putting a letter in a post box. You can help by adding our email address (messages@library.bbk.ac.uk) to any list of approved senders and if you don’t seem to be getting messages to check your spam or junk folders. It is your responsibility to manage your library borrowing, so please don’t rely solely on our emails as a means of keeping your account up to date.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

March 20

This day in 235, Maximinus Thrax was proclaimed Roman Emperor, the first foreigner to hold that office, which may be one reason why the snooty and aristocratic Senate didn’t much care for him. The fact that he was also a huge great powerful bullyboy of an illiterate peasant who had risen through the ranks purely via his overwhelming strength and an undisguised what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it-then-mate attitude only made them even more inclined to look down their noses at him. At least, they would have done, had he not been eight feet six tall, something which made that physically impossible, not to mention highly inadvisable. And so, very reluctantly and with extremely bad grace, they acquiesced and found themselves being lorded over by Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus Augustus or “Maximinus the Thracian.” Though he wasn’t actually from Thrace, this probably being no more than a vindictive piece of propaganda thrust upon him by disgruntled senators, seeing that the name of Thrace ultimately comes from thrasso, meaning to trouble or stir up, thus dubbing him Max the Troublemaker. Though never actually to his face, of course. Mind you, it was about right, seeing he was pretty much what the senators had always suspected him to be: a right common Barbarian and an especially nasty piece of work, whose reign led directly to the Crisis of the Third Century, during the fifty years of which they shipped emperors like there was no tomorrow (for many of whom there wouldn’t be, not once they’d been assassinated) and the end of Classical Antiquity. Don’t worry, though: Late Antiquity soon popped up to take its place.

The story goes that Maximinus was sitting there minding his own business and his flock (he was a shepherd originally) when along comes Septimius Severus (one of the few emperors to die of “natural causes,” though this definition does include “plague,” “struck by lightning” and “fumes”) with his army and spots this monumentally huge guy watching over a band of sheep so decides an impromptu session of wrestling is called for. When Maximinus has seen off sixteen of the very burliest amongst the soldiers and while they’re still catching their breath, he then races Septimius’s horse before taking on a further seven hefty legionnaires (well, legionaries, to be strictly accurate), who go much the same way as their colleagues, at which point, all things considered, they think it’s probably best if he quits the shepherding and goes soldiering with them. Which he did, rising through the ranks until Alexander Severus (grandson-in-law of Septimus) promoted him to Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army, from which position there was only one logical step left in his rapid upward progression. As luck would have it, just such a vacancy did arise, thanks to Alexander’s convenient death when he was hacked to death by the Legio XXII Primigenia, who coincidentally happened to be working for Maximinus at the time and who then handily elected him Emperor in his place.
However, Maximinus’s reputation soon began to plummet badly, mainly because he was brutal, malicious and paranoid (if you can be said to be paranoid when your five predecessors have all been bloodily slain, mostly by their own soldiers, and you would be too eventually), with the public being especially cruel about his prominent brow, huge great hooter and lantern jaw (he also sweated profusely, just for good measure), referring to him as “Cyclops.” Hardly surprising he was a tad on the moody side. (He may well have been a sufferer of acromegaly, or gigantism, the physical features and phenomenal strength being characteristics of the condition). It was also said that his sandals were twice the size of the regular army issue, he wore his wife’s bracelet as a thumb ring, crushed rocks in his fists, knocked out a mule with a single punch, and devoured forty pounds of meat and eighteen bottles of wine at every meal, though this may be no more than the wild exaggerations of twenty three bruised and battered legionaries hanging round the taberna desperately trying to explain how they’d all been beaten up by the one bloke in a single go.

When Maximinus appointed his own son, Maximus, as Caesar and then started taxing folk until they squeaked, the senators decided something must be done. So they persuaded an ancient old man, Gordian I, to be leader, who only agreed so long as his son, Gordian II, was ruler with him, the latter heading off to Carthage to give Maximinus what for, only to be killed there, which old man Gordian then got to hear about and promptly hung himself. Having taken on Rome’s Most Provenly Dangerous Job, they had lasted just twenty two days at it. Undismayed by this, and most likely bricking it in case a furious Maximinus got wind of their treachery, the Senate then turned to the unlikely pairing of Pupienus and Balbinus, both elderly, neither one of whom trusted the other an inch and, all in all, about as much use as lead-lined swimming trunks. Both sank without trace, once the Praetorian Guard got within a sword’s swing of them. They’d managed three months in post. Meanwhile, Maximinus was stamping his way Romeward bent on vengeance and got as far as Aquileia, which he decided was crying out for a spot of besieging, blissfully unaware that the inhabitants had tons of food supplies whilst his own troops had none whatsoever. Added to which, they got more than a little disheartened by the fact that every time they tried to scale the city walls, they ended up with boiling oil being poured onto them. And still nothing on the table come teatime. They were fed up. Or, rather, they weren’t, which was half the problem. So the only recourse left to them was to turn to those ever-public-spirited sorters out of tricky political situations, the trusty Praetorian Guard, whose next move caught everyone by surprise. Actually, no it didn’t; they simply did what they did best and crept up on Maximinus & Son while they slept, viciously slaughtered them and then carted their heads off to Rome on spears. 238 was known as the Year of the Six Emperors, Gordian III (aged only thirteen) then making up the numbers by taking the job on, though he did last six years at it. And then he was murdered …
20 March 1345 was the day that the Black Death was created. No word of a lie. Oh, it’s all very well for you to scoff and sneer and have half a mind to believe all this newfangled bunkum spouted by those Norwegian scientists with their Blame It On The Gerbils Campaign but let’s look at the facts, shall we? For a start off, gerbils are not native to Norway but, on the other hand, there most decidedly is a well-known rodent that glories in the name of rattus norvegicus. Or the Norway Rat. Or the Norwegian Rat. Or the Brown Norway Rat. Sounds fishily like the Norwegians are trying desperately to wriggle out of something they’re feeling rather guilty about here and we still haven’t forgiven them for Bjork yet. OK, she was technically from Iceland but, then again, nobody’s trying to blame Black Death on the Norwegians either, so what exactly is it they’re getting so overly worked up about? As we’ve already stated, the Black Death was created on this day in 1345 and you can check with the Paris Consilium, if you do have any lingering doubts, plus Boccaccio gives it a mention in the Decameron too. What happened was that this Paris Consilium, a group of forty nine medical masters at the University of Paris (none of them Norwegian), were asked by King Philip VI of France to answer just one simple question: “This Black Death thing, lads: what’s that all about then?”

Philip VI also happened to be known as Phil the Fortunate, which does seem a shade overoptimistic, seeing that, when he posed his question in October 1348, one third of his subjects, including his own wife, had just been wiped out by said plague and a good few others had also been put paid to when he lost the Battle of Crecy. The Consilium got straight down to it and, having almost immediately ruled out Norwegian gerbils as the culprits, decided the most likely thing was a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars under the moist sign of Aquarius that had taken place on 20 March 1345, following solar and lunar eclipses. Obvious really, once it’s been pointed out, but they were also able to cite Aristotle, no less, who’d reckoned that a coming together of Saturn and Jupiter was sure to spell disaster, and Albert the Great (the Catholic bishop and saint, not to be confused with Alfred the Great, though neither of them did any cake-burning, as it turns out), who said Jupiter and Mars getting together could only mean plague, Jupiter being hot and wet and just the qualities you need for rotting and putrefaction to make a bold show of it. The Black Death killed about twenty five million people in the end. No wonder it’s illegal to keep a gerbil in California.

This day in 1616 sees Sir Walter Raleigh being freed from the Tower after thirteen years of imprisonment. The first thing to remember about this historical character is that these days we’re supposed to pronounce it Raleigh, to rhyme with “poorly”, not Raleigh as in “valley.” It seems that, until 1581 anyhow, he spelled it either Rauley or Rauleygh and then decided, for no apparent reason, to start calling himself Ralegh. But never ever Raleigh, though that didn’t stop the good folk of North Carolina misspelling their capital in honour of him: Raleigh. The next thing to recall about him, after pointing out he never laid down any cloaks to keep queenly feet dry of puddles (we’d’ve told her to “walk around, ma’am”), is that, although he’s listed mainly as an English Landed Gent, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, and explorer, he was, in fact, a hardened gaolbird, 1616 being his second stretch inside. Having managed to worm his way into the good books of Elizabeth I, not least by sailing to America and naming Virginia after her (she being the Virgin Queen, of course, and didn’t seem to mind who knew), such shameless toadying reaped its traditional reward in 1585: he was knighted. In 1588, he was at it again, this time helping to keep Devon free of Armada, though his role in the actual fighting was a quite minor one, his vessel taking a bigger part in the action than he ever did, being the flagship of the fleet under the command of Lord Howard. The ship, commissioned by Raleigh, was originally called the Ark Ralegh, the tradition then being to name vessels after their owners (quite what that implies about Drake’s Golden Hind is probably best left unpondered) but, in 1587, the Queen had “purchased” her for a huge sum (Raleigh never saw a penny of it, being massively in debt to her for previous voyages) and so she became the Ark Royal. Potless as ever he may have been, but his star was still very much in the ascendency, especially where the monarch was concerned.

And then, in 1591, he went and blew it. By marrying a woman called Elizabeth Throckmorton. Or Throgmorton. With a maiden name like that, you can see why she’d’ve wanted to get hitched at the first half-decent drop of a hat, though that wasn’t the actual blunder of the move. Nor was it her being eleven years his junior or the fact that she was not really quite so maidenly after all, seeing she was decidedly on the pregnant side at the time. It all boiled down to the matter of her being a lady-in-waiting of the Queen’s and that they’d undertaken the ceremonials on the quiet, without telling her or even asking her permission, though it wasn’t until the following year that Elizabeth got to hear about it and, having been callously denied her slice of the wedding cake, she was understandably more than a bit miffed. Enough to have them both sent to the Tower to have a long hard think about what they’d done. Poor old Walter would languish there until early 1593 and, having spent so long amongst the worst cutthroats and villains in England at that time, he did the only thing a fallen man in such a position could do: he became a Member of Parliament. It would be years before he would return to favour with the Queen, though he and his wife always remained devoted to each other, having two more sons, Walter and Carew, the first one, Damerei (parents can be so cruel), having died in 1592 of plague. As well as his son, Raleigh’s dad was also called Walter so, even though England was no longer under threat from a Spanish invasion, it looked in imminent danger of being overrun by Walter Raleighs.
Meanwhile, the doughty mariner beguiled his doghouse days by heading off on various trips and, in 1594, having heard of a “City of Gold” in South America and the legend of “El Dorado”, he sailed away to hunt for it. Sadly, however, it proved naught but myth and he would have had just as much success if he’d simply stayed at home and put his energies into searching for fairies at the bottom of the garden. And then disaster struck when, on 23 March 1603, Elizabeth I breathed her last and, in her place, along came the dour and slovenly James I (James VI of Scotland), who didn’t view Raleigh any too kindly at all, though this was a man who, it is said, had a distinct preference for “brae Scots laddies wi’ handsome faces and firm buttocks,” so what chance did a wizened old salty sea dog have in such circumstances? To make matters worse, our Walter had gone and gotten himself somehow embroiled in the Main Plot, a conspiracy to get rid of James and replace him with Arabella Stuart (her father being brother of Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and himself father of James I, so you can see how complicated and incestuous it was all getting), whereas the Bye Plot (which is why the Main Plot gets its name) was merely a bunch of disgruntled Catholics and Puritans wanting to kidnap James in order to improve their own lot. Naturally enough, James I was not best pleased and, even though Raleigh categorically denied any involvement and defended himself stoutly in court (papers found nearly four hundred years later would prove he’d been fibbing again), the verdict was a guilty one. And so, by July 1603, Raleigh once again found himself banged up, though at least the King had spared him the block. And there he would stay until 20 March 1616, though he did manage to use the time productively, writing his first volume of The Historie of the World and by (somehow) conceiving his son Carew.

By 1616, it seems that Raleigh had been able to persuade a gullible monarch that, if he gave him a boat, he knew where to look for El Dorado this time and would bring him back a fabulous treasure. Not to mention a flock or two of wild geese as well, no doubt. He did know where to look rightly enough, the trouble being that El Dorado wasn’t actually where it was supposed to be, so he had to head for home emptyhanded, goldless and gooseless. Worse still, his men ransacked the Spanish outpost of San Tomé on the way back, during which Raleigh’s son Walter was fatally shot so, when he did finally reach Blighty, there was an infuriated Spanish Ambassador waiting, keen to enquire what the King might be going to do about such an outrage. In order to keep the peace, James decided it was probably best all round if Raleigh were beheaded after all and so, on 29 October 1618, he was brought to the scaffold to deliver his famous last words: “Strike, man, strike!” A short time later, his favourite pipe and a small tin of tobacco engraved with the inscription (in Latin): “It was my companion at that most miserable time,” were found in his cell, so they buried them with him. Unfortunately, and rather ironically, they then failed to bury the head in with him, that being embalmed and given to his widow, who then carried it around in a bag for the next twenty nine years, after which it was finally reunited with the rest of him.

Sir Walter would later go on to make ninety third in the poll, 100 Greatest Britons, just behind J. R. R. Tolkien. If you are wondering what a convicted and, indeed, ultimately executed felon is doing on such a list, it would seem that, when the poll was undertaken way back in 2002, we Ungreat Britons who were responsible for doing the actual electing can’t have been any too choosy. Either that or (it seems highly unlikely) we simply didn’t know what we were talking about or who it was that we were voting in (so, no change there, then), seeing the final list contains no fewer than five others who met a state-sanctioned death, all of whom beat him in the rankings: William Tynedale (26th, burned, ostensibly for translating the Bible into English, even though they would later use huge chunks of his text for the King James Authorised version, though opposing Henry VIII’s divorce was what really did the damage; Guy Fawkes (30th, “the only man to enter Parliament with the right intentions”); Thomas More (37th, for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church, but mostly for not attending his wedding to Anne Boleyn, beheaded – he did beat Henry in the end, seeing Fat Hal only managed 40th); William Wallace (48th, Scottish rebel that Braveheart is allegedly and very loosely based upon, hanged, drawn and quartered); and James Connolly (64th, Leader of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, shot). Plus there’re two rabid bigots in there, in the shape of Oliver Cromwell (10th, the Drogheda Massacre bloke and regicide-in-chief, also ritually executed after his death) and, bizarrely, Enoch Powell (55th, the Rivers of Blood maniac). Oh, and Boy George too …

But, if you think that’s madness enough, we’ll leave the last word on 20 March to those Archdeacons of Common Sense, the American Supreme Court, who this day in 1991 stood themselves four square with the principles of equality and firmly by the shoulders of Women’s Rights when they decided – nay, voted unanimously – that employers could not exclude women from jobs where exposure to toxic chemicals could potentially endanger a foetus, thus giving them (and their unborn child) the selfsame right as their male counterparts to die by corporate poisoning. We hold these rights to be self-evident …

Maximinus Thrax: By Jastrow (File:Maximinus Thrax Musei Capitolini MC473.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Septimus Severus: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Legionaries: By Photo taken by user Caliga10's wife. [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Praetorian Guard (proclaiming Claudius Emperor after finding him hiding behind a curtain): Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rattus Norvegicus: By National Park Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Philip the Fortunate: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Raleigh: By 'H' monogrammist (floruit 1588) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bess Throckmorton: By Robert Peake the Elder (ca. 1551-1619) (thePeerage.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Raleigh Smoking: By Frederick William Fairholt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Raleigh at the Block: By From The Popular History of England: An Illustrated History of Society and Government from the Earliest Period to Our Own Times by Charles Knight. Illustrator does not appear to be credited. (NYPL Digital Gallery) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Execution of William Tynedale: By John Foxe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 16 March 2015

Construction work in the Library: Monday 23rd March - Friday 27th March

Study Support Room construction

The Library has successfully bid for money from the Alumni Fund to build a small room - the Study Support Room. This will be constructed on Level 1 of the Library next to the Help Desk.

This will be for the use of:

1.    Access Support students using speech input software
2.    Subject Librarians for 1 to 1 meetings with Library users
3.    Library Access Support staff to meet with Access Support students

Whilst this room is being created there will be some noise disruption around this area on Level 1.  We apologise in advance for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause – this will be kept to a minimum.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Still places left on our workshops

Still places left on our upcoming workshops: tomorrow at 6pm - using the PsycInfo, PsycArticles and PEPWeb databases, and Saturday at 2pm - Finding out about the Nineteenth Century.

Book your place at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/mybirkbeck/global/workshop_timetable?orgunit=LIB

"You Said... We Did" Our responses to your feedback 7

Our annual joint Library/IT survey will be coming around again next month and, in preparation for that, we wanted to let you know what we have done in response to your comments from last year's survey. Here's the seventh instalment:

You said:
“More staff members should be available to help at busy times”
"More support"
"Better levels of staff presence"
"Have more staff available to help"

We did:

Had members of staff ‘roving’ between 4pm and 6pm for two weeks at the start of the Autumn and Spring terms to help new and returning students find books and use photocopiers and printers. This relieved the pressure on the help desk during these busy periods and enabled us to help more students.

During term time we have two members of staff on the help desk during our busiest time of the day - 4.30pm to 6pm.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"You Said... We Did" Our responses to your feedback 6

Our annual joint Library/IT survey will be coming around again next month and, in preparation for that, we wanted to let you know what we have done in response to your comments from last year's survey. Here's the sixth instalment:

You said:
“More computers in the Library”
“We need more computers”

We did:
Installed over 30 new computers along the Torrington Square side of Levels 1 and 2 of the Library, bringing the total on both levels on that side of the Library to 40, and the total in the Library to over 100.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates.


Tur-muh-guhnt: Noun: (1) a violent, turbulent, or brawling woman; a shrewish woman; scold; (2) (initial capital letter) a mythical deity popularly believed to have been worshipped by the Muslims. Adjective: violent; turbulent; brawling; shrewish.

Related forms: termagantly, adverb; termagancy, noun.
From Old French, Teruagaunt or Tervagant, a proper name that appeared in "Chanson de Roland” (which is your Song of Roland), an epic poem running to some four thousand lines and the oldest surviving major work of French literature, having been written somewhere between 1040 and 1115, though the events involved go way back to 778 and the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. This was fought high up in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain during the reign of Charlemagne, with Pepin the Short having something to do with it too (he should actually be Pippin the Younger but it got translated wrongly and then it kind of stuck – getting things a touch wrong being something of a theme herein). Certainly the misfortunate Roland himself got it startlingly wrong when, as Prefect of the Breton March, he went steaming in against the Basques only to end up getting defeated and killed by them, not exactly the sort of heroic deeds of derring-do normally associated with this kind of chanson de geste that was all the rage just then. Over time, oral tradition turned the battle into a major conflict between Christians and Muslims, which is about as accurate your average Ukip spokesperson, seeing that both sides were relentless Christians but, as Pippin the Younger (and Ukip) found out, mistakes tend to be mighty hard to shake off.

“Embowelled! if thou embowel me to-day, I’ll give you leave to powder me and eat me too tomorrow. ‘Sblood, ‘twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too.”

There’s the word turning up in Shakespeare, no less, spoken by Falstaff (the corrupt drunkard) in Henry IV (that’s Bolingbroke, of course, the usurper) Part One (1597), Act V, Scene IV. Not only is the word already spelt wrongly but the termagant Scot herein is a man, Archibald, the 4th Earl of Douglas. In morality plays of the Middle Ages, the stock Termagant character was always depicted in long, flowing feminine gowns so English audiences (say no more) mistakenly got the idea that the Termagant, though portrayed by male actors, was somehow female. As a result, termagant came to mean “a shrewish woman” who was a common scold. Thus the word actually comes from a medieval invented name for something erroneously ascribed to the Muslims and mistakenly thought to be attributable to women. The Bard does at least get it half right, seeing he used the word twice – it crops up in Hamlet too – and both times he was referring to a man. Chaucer also uses it in the Canterbury Tales, in the Tale of Sir Thopas (supposedly being told by Chaucer himself) but again spelling it wrongly, though Chaucer’s spelling never was much to write home about, as we can tell from when Harry Bailey, the host, interrupts this story to inform the hapless narrator that, “thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord.” Bit harsh really.
We’d best make it clear right away, particularly for the benefit of our overseas followers who may be using these columns to brush up on their English vernacular, that this word is one for using exceeding sparingly and certainly not within earshot of the intended subject, unless you do happen to be wearing a stout pair of running shoes at the time. There are, in fact, a staggering number of derogatory terms intended to imply your less than absolutely desirable female companion, though most of them have only been feminised through common usage, having originally been equally applicable to either sex. It’s almost as if it had been us chaps thinking up the words all along. (A chap being a customer, someone who buys stuff from a chapman, an itinerant seller). You’ll probably have noticed that termagant has already been defined several times (by the Dictionary) as someone – well, a woman, actually – who is a shrew or shrewish (for good measure and in a rather circular fashion, a shrew is likewise defined as “a termagant”), and Shakespeare himself uses it for one of the more contentious titles of his plays, the Taming of the Shrew, whilst Doctor Johnson defines a shrew as a “peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman,” even though it originally meant a spiteful person, man or woman. All of which seems a tad strange, given that sorex araneus is such a lovable and harmless little creature, until you discover that our uninformed medieval brethren (you can bet on it being us blokes again) of the thirteenth century got the idea (who knows where from, seeing it’s nothing but an old wives’ tale) that shrews had a venomous bite and thus were held in superstitious dread. From which we get (now sadly consigned to desuetude) beshrew, meaning to invoke evil upon or curse, as in “Beshrew me,” also lamentably fallen by the wayside now. We really should try and revive that one, you know.

Right then, chaps, let’s take a swiftish delve into some of the vast array of wordage that we’ve been obliged to coin and resort to over the ages simply in order to see us through all those innumerable occasions on which the womenfolk have managed to outbetter us at our own game (acted shrewishly, we mean) and left us simmering in high dudgeon, shall we? And, beshrew me, there’s a veritable plethora to choose from! Most of which, if not all, come with the standard issue dictionary warning of (in brackets, like they’re whispering it) Informal, Offensive. The Bard also manages to shoehorn quite a few of them into his works at some point or another, which was a surefire way of raising a quick chuckle back then and made a pleasant change from always having to rely for the laughs on the old routine of man plays woman who dresses up as a boy and then promptly falls in love with another man who doesn’t realise he’s a woman (being played by a man but dressed as a boy, who happens to be an actor playing the role of a woman). Confusing, eh? Ah well, with Shakespeare, that’s as you like it, isn’t it? 

Let’s start with a nice straightforward one in biddy, which sounds innocuous enough but does come with the usual Offensive warning and is dictionary-defined as a “fussbudget,” another disparaging slang term, this time the Americanism for our own fusspot. This was originally, 1595-1605 time, a dialect term for a chicken or hen, possibly (so we’re led to believe) derived from the “imitative of calling chickens.” Meaning they’re asking us to accept that people back then not only called to their chickens in the first place but actually did so by bellowing “biddy, biddy, biddy,” at them, which doesn’t seem all that likely to bring the fowlfolk scuttling in your direction, now does it? The sense of a gossipy and interfering old woman came in some time in the eighteenth century and refers to a maidservant, usually a cleaning woman and generally old and Irish, Biddy being a contraction or pet version of the popular name Bridget. Presumably then, the Victorians, with their stiff sense of morality, weren’t above getting aged and wizened old Irishwomen to call their chickens in for them? Another female name to have gone much the same way is Abigail (which, bizarrely, means “my father is rejoicing”), an abigail also being a lady’s maid, thanks to the literary efforts of those early feminists, Beaumont & Fletcher, who penned the seminal work, The Scornful Lady “(A Comedie)” with blokes, as often as not, playing the title role and with Samuel Pepys in the front row on no less than six occasions, such a rip-roarer was it. 

Then there’s your usual round of suspects to wheel out, including some old favourites in Battleaxe, Bitch, Dragon, Scold and Witch. And let’s not forget Nag or Nagger, which come from the Old English (or Norse), gnagan, to gnaw, which then became nagga, to rub, grumble or quarrel. When it comes to nag, as in a (generally old and worn-out) horse, that’s from Old Saxon, hnægan, which is your onomatopoeic neigh, or the whinny of such a beast. We could even add Fury to the list (those playful daughters of Gaea) and they would still all have one thing in common: they were all originally equally as applicable to men as to women. Well, except nag, your knackered horse, of course. And we do use the word advisedly there, the Knacker being the gentleman who was summoned to put your past-it steed out of its misery. And then cut it up and feed it to your hounds. Talking of broken down horses (that also happen to be rather on the lean side), the French have a word for just such a specimen: haridelle – we English also have a term that means much the same: Findus – and from that we get harridan, which usually implies there’s a certain amount of decrepitude on show along with a smidgen of haggishness, all on the skinny and decidedly gristly side, though the ever-gallant Dr Johnson defines harridan simply as “a decayed strumpet.” That last is a word nobody knows for sure where it came from, though one theory suggests it might have arisen from the Latin, stuprata, which is a strictly feminine version of “to have illicit sexual relations with”, the male versions being “stud” or “bit of a lad.” Or other such smugly congratulatory terminology. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be giving Dr Johnson such a hard time just because he was a cantankerous old ideot (Hogarth’s word for Johnson, until he met him), because, after all, he was merely following in the tradition of his ancient forefathers, the Greeks and Romans, who weren’t above coming up with their own defamatory terms with which to besmirch the good ladyfolk back then, though they tended to polish the whole thing up with the veneer of History, just to show they weren’t being gratuitously insulting. Harpy is a good example, and one still very much alive and kicking today, again with the word “shrew” almost obligatory as part of the definition, though very much more sinister back when Aristotle was a nipper. The name Harpies comes from the Greek, Harpyia, “the Snatchers,” which in turn comes from harpazein, to snatch, from which we (eventually) get rapine, rapacious and rapid. These Harpies were pretty much synonymous with the Furies (the myth, not the Irish folk band), who were also the Erinyes, female chthonic deities of vengeance – that’s just a fancy word meaning they lived underground, a bit like our Wombles, coming from khthon, one of their terms for earth, Gaia being another, hence the “daughters of Gaea” remark earlier. What happened was that Cronus, who was youngest of the Titans and scion of Gaia and Uranus (he was the Sky and the ruler), thought he could make a better fist of the kinging than his old man so, encouraged by the fickle Gaia, who went as far as providing him with the sickle, he castrated the hapless Uranus and chucked his now-extraneous wedding tackle into the sea, not only causing the Erinyes and the Meliae (they’d be the ash tree nymphs, of course) to be formed from the blood but also creating Aphrodite out of the crests of foam. Cronus, in turn, would eventually be overthrown by Zeus, who then gave King Phineus of Thrace the gift of prophecy, only to get a tad miffed with him for giving away all his secret plans – you’d’ve thought Phineus would’ve seen that coming – so Zeus decides to do something about it, first by blinding the Thracian king and then by casting him away on an island where there’s always a delicious buffet on hand – this is where the story gets a little hard to believe: who’s ever heard of a delicious buffet? – though he can never get so much as a morsel down him because Zeus has realised he’s got all these Harpies (ravenous, filthy monsters with the head of a woman and the body of a bird, not to mention particularly fiendish looking talons) loafing about and not really putting their snatching abilities to the best use, so he sends them on ahead to make sure poor Phineus stays constantly peckish by snatching the canapés right out of his hands and then “befouling” anything left over. But everything turns out alright in the end because Jason and the Argonauts turn up and we’ve all of us seen the footage for ourselves of what happened after that, haven’t we? Thus History has provided us with our modern understanding of harpy: a shrewish, predatory, bad-tempered woman who will eventually meet her comeuppance thanks to some rather tacky special effects.
Next up is Virago, and there’s no getting away from it this time, lads – this has to be one of ours, surely, seeing what we’ve come up with here is the most vicious and deplorable insult you could possibly inflict upon a woman: that of accusing her of acting like a man. Though we can always shelter behind a modicum of claimed innocence on this one by blaming those relentless scourgers and crucifiers, the Ancient Romans, for it, because it’s firmly rooted in Latin, being vir, man, plus the feminising suffix of –ago, which actually does the opposite and makes “her” some kind of “he,” for which she should be despised and looked down upon. Joan of Arc is your classic example of a virago, having gone around fifteenth century France fighting battles and generally giving the English a hard time of it, though the thing that really unsettled the chaps back then was the fact that she did it all wearing masculine clothing, so they burned her at the stake for it, just to be on the safe side. Akin to vir is the Old English wer, which is the root of werewolf, whilst from vir itself we get virility, which is manliness, of course, and also virtue, which is worthiness or, well, just being manly, now you happen to mention it.

Another woman to donate her name to this clutch of opprobrious terminology was Xanthippe, who’s managed to go down as the worst wife in history somehow, though being saddled with a name that means Yellow Horse (xanthos, yellow and hippos, horse) can’t have helped the cause much. The longsuffering blighter on the receiving end of the interminable nagging was no lesser personage than Socrates himself, who seems to have entered the marriage pretty much for the challenge of it in the first place so, whilst this shouldn’t make you feel too sorry for the poor wretch, it does make you think, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly made him think, which was probably precisely what he was innocently engaged upon when, according to legend, his good lady wife suddenly appeared and, enraged at some misdemeanour or other of his, promptly poured a chamber pot over his head. Mind you, as you might expect, he was quite philosophical about the whole incident, remarking simply that, “After thunder comes the rain.” Yes, and after the chamber pot comes a night in the doghouse, no doubt. Followed by some ignominious apologising in the morning and then a quick dash down to the florists.

When it comes to us of the washing-up-chromosome-bearing gender, there does seem to be rather a paucity of vituperation with which the womenfolk might hit back at us, researches having turned up virtually nothing beyond the usual disreputable opprobrium based around genitalia that would be unprintable upon these pages. Perhaps it’s simply not in the female nature to feel the need for a constant reliance upon a stream of barbed commentary, that their very maternality makes them altogether more understanding and forgiving of any perceived failings, more ready to put them aside in the interests of peace and harmony. It’s a fat lot more likely, however, that pretty early on in the whole affair, they hit upon the one and only word they’ll ever need – which comes down to us from the Celtic for a large, stubborn person, ploc – and the one that will prove efficacious and pertinent in almost any given situation, covering any weakness and all eventualities. Picture it now: the wronged woman seeking solace amongst her disbelieving yet sympathetic girlfriends, already prepared to put the whole incident firmly behind her and move resolutely on. 

‘Well,’ she will explain to them in wistful resignation, ‘he’s a bloke, isn’t he?’

Death of Roland: Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Chaucer: By anonymous portrait (Government Art Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Doctor Johnson: Joshua Reynolds [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As You Like It: By Walter Howell Deverell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Chicken Feed: Julien Dupré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Knacker: Thomas Rowlandson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Harpies: By scanned, post-processed, and uploaded by Karl Hahn (Pantheon Books edition of Divine Comedy) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Socrates, His Wives & the Chamber Pot: Reyer Jacobsz. van Blommendael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Crucifixion of St Peter: Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons