Shavian and Wavian

In a recent article in the Irish Times, columnist Frank McNally discussed the derivation of adjectival forms for proper names, wondering for example why people in Cork are known as Corkonians rather than Corkians or Corkists. One example he considers is the adjectival form of George Bernard Shaw’s surname (“Shavian”):

I suspect it has to do with our old friend rhoticity, mentioned here last week in the context of Winston Churchill’s insistence that “jaw-jaw” rhymed with “war-war”. As pointed out then, those with non-rhotic accents, like Churchill’s, do not roll Rs (hence his rhyme); except sometimes, perversely, where there is no R to roll, as in “India-r-and-Pakistan”. So if the adjective was “Shawian”, as it might be on this (rhotic) side of the Irish Sea, that would tend to become “Shawrian” in England.  Maybe “Shavian” was designed to preempt confusion…

Anyway, maybe there is a logic to Shavian. If so, why does the rule not apply to Evelyn Waugh? I ask this fresh from a belated reading of the latter’s classic satire on journalism, Scoop, which is full of Wavian (as nobody calls it) humour, based loosely on the author’s own experiences as what Churchill would have called a Waugh correspondent.

Well, not quite “nobody”.

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One Response to Shavian and Wavian

  1. Antony F. P. Vickery says:

    Christopher Hitchens begins his 2007 NYT review of Alexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons in this way:

    If students of George Bernard Shaw can be called Shavians, a friend of Evelyn Waugh’s named John Sutro argued, then those interested in all things Waugh might be called Wavians. I now realize that, without knowing it, I have been a Wavian for many years.

    The article can be found here:

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