Groundhog Day Roundup

–Columnist John Derbyshire has posted a story in his “Derb’s January Diary” column on the anti-immigrant website Vdare that may start another debate like U/Non-U pronunciation or George and Ira Gershwin’s line “You say tomato, and I say tomahto”. Derbyshire, who grew up and was educated in England, pronounces Celtic with a hard “C” as is common, although not universal, in England. In trying to determine when this  practice started, he goes back to his Latin class and that of Evelyn Waugh earlier in the century:

…at least where Britain is concerned. I’ve been hearing “Celt” with a hard “C” for as long as I can remember—about sixty years. I started school Latin in 1956. We were taught to use the “German” pronunciation (that’s what I heard it called, I think because it had been worked out by 19th-century German scholars) when reading Latin texts aloud in class: hard “c,” “v” as “w,” and so on. I don’t know when that style of teaching Latin was taken up in England. Evelyn Waugh wrote in A Little Learning that he and his schoolfellows were making fun of it circa (or kirka) 1916, so that was probably soon after the changeover from soft-“c” “medieval” pronunciation in Latin teaching.[…]

Derbyshire goes on to consider sources other than Latin teachers and concludes with this:

The actual Celts are still numerous in the British Isles, and they seem to be the strongest partisans of the hard “C” in “Celt.” Perhaps it’s been that working its influence on the rest of the Brits.

The following tale is told of both Richard Harris, who was Irish, and also of Richard Burton, who was Welsh. Harris version: He had little time for fools. One apocryphal story has an American wittering on to Harris about his own third-generation Irish heritage or some such, but using a soft “c,” pronouncing celt “selt”: “I’m a celt just like you,” says the American. “No sir, you are a sunt,” replies Harris.
[Burton version differs only slightly, with same punchline.]

I note in passing that there is no soft “c” in either written Irish or written Welsh. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

The soft “C” in the name of the Glasgow soccer team remains to be explained. My guess would be that it’s part of the 1,500-year campaign by the Scots to try to make the rest of us forget they are really just Irish colonists with a better class of whiskey (or “whisky” if you’re Scottish).

There may be other explanations for all this confusion. If there are, though, I have to ask, as Kee-keh-ro might have: Ubi sunt?

–Singer/songwriter and, more recently, author, Tracey Thorn has written a column on the subject  “My Culture Fix”  in today’s issue of The Times. The column opens with this:

My favourite book
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. It’s a book I return to, a kind of comfort read, although there’s nothing especially comforting about it. Dreadful things happen to people and are narrated in a detached, almost throwaway manner. It’s brisk and pacy, filled with memorable characters and the writing is pared to the bone. Not one word more than is needed. And it’s hilariously funny.

Thorn got her start as the female half of the singing duo “Everything But the Girl”. More recently, she has performed solo and branched into writing. Her first book was a memoir Bedsit Disco Queen (2013) to which she has recently added a sequel (or perhaps it’s a prequel) called Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia. She grew up in Hatfield, just beyond the reach of the London Underground.

–Jonathan Meades, writer and TV presenter (and one might add, satirist) on the subjects of culture, architecture and food has written a feature-length article in Standpoint magazine.on the subject of “Taste” (not the food variety). This ranges from good taste to bad, to none at all. He takes as his opening example the career and reputation of Cecil Beaton. As usual when there is a discussion of Beaton in all his manifestations, Waugh comes into the story. And so it is the case here:

…Waspish observations on Taste — mostly other people’s, mostly found wanting — fill [Beaton’s]  diaries.  The “crass Bad Taste” of Elizabeth Taylor (“vulgar”) and Richard Burton (“butch and coarse”) was an aesthetic offence. But then so was what John Betjeman called “ghastly Good Taste”. Yet neither was as distressing as — oh, be prepared to blench — No Taste. No Taste was far beyond offensive. No Taste was a sort of disability that afflicts the majority, the multitudinous flocks of the misled and easily led. And to avoid it, Beaton’s life, self-creation and very core were larded with devices designed to make him stand out from the vulgo, to shout that he had Taste. Wittingly or not, he followed Nietzsche: “Blessed are those who have Taste — even if it is Bad Taste.”

Polonius’s sartorial advice to Laertes, “not expressed in fancy; rich not gaudy”, could not have fallen on deafer ears. Evelyn Waugh routinely anointed him with the faintest praise. Noel Coward reproached him for his “conspicuously exaggerated” clothes and his countless affectations. His friend and neighbour Lady Juliet Duff was precise. He was “like a very successful Parisian madame who had decided to give it all up, moved to the English countryside, and took all her bordello belongings with her”.

Meades moves from Beaton’s taste to how his own hometown of Salisbury (where Beaton also lived in the nearby countryside) might remake itself after the public relations disaster of the Putin poisonings. He then segues into what is perhaps his favorite subject of architectural tastes and styles. He slips between deadpan irony and serious criticism, and it can become difficult to follow him, particularly on the subject of architecture where he seems to possess more knowledge on the subject than the average reader of Standpoint magazine. But even the layman can enjoy this discussion, if only for its humorous presentation.


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