The Stories of English (David Crystal)

David Crystal’s The Stories of English is a fascinating book, shot through with honest passion for the language (also on display in his excellent Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language). It’s a long book, and closely typeset on long lines, so I wouldn’t recommend buying the paperback unless your eyesight is very good.

The book tells the unexpurgated story of English, including its dialects and non-standard forms. Mr Crystal, rightly, puts just as much weight on ‘dialect’ English as on the RP/standard forms, and the book tells a story of a lively language that the 18th century tried to put in corsets. But now with the rise of the Internet & othr cmnctn techs, the lngge is brkng 3 agn.

The story of how English was standardised was a surprise to traditionally-educated me. Mr Crystal’s case that rules don’t really matter, and only comprehension does is very persusive, and I for one pledge to not even slightly worry about split infinitives any more.


Sellotape and trains

Much artificial outrage in the tabs today at a train driver who asked his passengers for sticky tape to fix his train. What is the world coming to, is the Mail’s view.

Of course, aficionados of the Thomas the Tank Engine oeuvre, as my son and I are, will remember that James’s driver used one Mr Jobling’s bootlace to repair a brake pipe after James had treated his carriages roughly one day. “The passengers told the Driver, the Fireman and the Guard what a Bad Railway it was,” wrote W. Awdry in 1948.

Well, indeed. Even now.

Wimbledon 2005

Off to Wimbledon with my sister yesterday. Three hours queuing for ground passes, which on a warm day was just fine. Saw the Andrew Murray game on Henman Hill/Murray Field/Aorangi Terrace, and plenty of snatches of good live tennis – Mary Pierce beating Ivanovic, a moment or two of Grosjean’s game, a Czech mens doubles pairing battling a Polish duo, and Jiri Novak being beaten by his doubles partner Max Mirnyi.

The match that may well stick in my mind in future years is Jade Curtis, going down in a girls’ singles first round game. She’s only just 15, however, and showed a lot of talent once she got past what looked like some nerves in the first set. The thing that really impressed me, other than Curtis’s age, was her clear determination to win, and obvious irritation with herself when she didn’t. It’s a good attitude, and hopefully in a few years’ time, we’ll all be sitting on Murray Field/Curtis Curve/Aorangi Terrace.

Price William, MA

Prince William graduated from university today (MA in geography, for what it’s worth), and the press hoopla around it reminded me of how cruel fate is to make people Royal.

Not only are the general public (and a fair sprinkling of nutters) constantly speculating about your love life, but it’s a life sentence, whether you like it or not.

I feel deeply sorry for Prince William and Kate Middleton, who appear to be perfectly normal undergrads, if perhaps a shade richer than the average (an article from the Mirror, linked above, described Ms Middleton’s family home as ‘a £500,000 mansion in Berkshire’. I know Berkshire, and £500,000 don’t buy you no mansion).

Perhaps it’s a mark of civilisation that monarchies have stopped oppressing the people and started oppressing themselves. But couldn’t Republic (or at least Amnesty) move away from the bone dry arguments about heads of state, and start a Human Rights case?

Iran moves right

Results from the first round of the Iranian election have pitted a right-winger against … er … an even more right-winger. Interesting to see whether there’ll be a Chriac/LePen vote split next Friday.

Bob Geldof vs. the Human Rights Act

Bill Thompson lays into Live8 and Bob Geldof over the eBay selling controversy.

Brief recap: people were selling their legally-obtained Live8 tickets on eBay. Geldof was upset, threatened boycotts, etc. eBay caved, ticket sales withdrawn.

Bill rightly points out that this is a pretty illiberal thing to do. eBay’s just a marketplace. Threatening them with boycotts for what their sellers do is the worst sort of collective punishment – not that far removed from Nicht vom Juden kaufen.

eBay is a Big Bad Corporation, of course, so it’s easy to knock it – even though it was hardly encouraging the sales. But shouldn’t freedom of speech extend to freedom of commerce?

Staying in Brighton

I was in Brighton the other weekend, househunting with the family. We decided to stay a couple of nights as a treat (the move to Amersham had just fallen through), and also to give us a couple of evenings out on the town.

We stayed at the very pleasant New Steine Hotel, on the New Steine, along St. James’s Street towards Kemp Town. Very friendly staff and good, clean rooms for a reasonable rate, though the bed wasn’t of the most comfortable, and there was no lift. Can’t recommend the restaurant, though – a French bistro that delivered a medium-rare steak with no pinkness: for shame!

The last night there my sister baby-sat, and we went out for a meal with two friends to the Coach House on Middle Street. Great food and friendly service – highly recommended. Good as a bar, too, with some tables for drinking out front and a small bar area.

Turn-around time

Barry Goldwater, arch conservative, speaking in 1964, and quoted on Fierce Planet:

“The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”