It’s surprising to realise that my love of English words is ‘trending’. In the last few weeks Yahoo have been telling us about some surprising German words, Facebook some obsolete English words and on the BBC TV program Pointless one of the categories was Russian words in use in English: Tsar, Samovar, Borzoi, Beluga – Borzoi is the Russian word for ‘swift’ – not a breed of dog and Beluga means ‘Great White’ though we usually apply it to the best Caviar very delicious (I’ve only had it twice in my life).
English proliferates with words we have adopted from other languages; Pariah from India means dog- possibly the equivalent of the English Cur and the ubiquitous chocolate is derived from the language of the Aztecs ‘xocolatt’. English of course is a real mixture of languages Welsh, Celtic, Anglo Saxon-German, Latin, Norse, French and others it is this that makes it so rich in description, tone and sensitivity. Surprisingly it is estimated that approximately one third of English has its origins in French.
There are lots of puns going the rounds at the moment too, most recent was a competition for shop names the winner ‘Junk and Disorderly’ wouldn’t that just make you want to go in and browse? But I think my favourite has got to be ‘What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A Thesaurus’ or what about ‘I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I can’t put it down.’
Puns or paronomasia are a wordplay that is purposeful. Shakespeare’s puns remind me of his sonnets some of which are quite risqué. Ian and I sang Elizabethan sonnets and madrigals in an Elizabethan restaurant to pay our way through college many years ago but that’s another story.
Shakespeare’s puns are not as simple or obvious as most: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun (son) of York”…Richard III was the son of the Duke of York. The stabbed Mercutio says in Romeo and Juliet (1597) “tomorrow …. You shall find me a grave (serious-dead) man.
Someone sent me some examples of acyrologia, paraprosdokians and cacozelia I was doubtful, didn’t really believe there were such words as acyrologia, paraprosdokians or cacozelia I thought it was something our American cousins had introduced to keep us on our toes. I knew about Malapropisms and Spoonerisms, Puns etc but in fact they are all figures of speech specifically English though they surely have their equivalent in other languages. Naturally I couldn’t resist exploring these wonderful words. None of these figures of speech are a modern thing and I expect go back to as soon as English became English and also to the local working classes as all the landed class initially spoke French.
Acyrologia is the unintentionally incorrect use of words that may sound similar but have a very different meaning from the word really intended. The results are often funny. “I don’t want you casting nasturtiums (aspersions) on my friends” or “Its just a pigment (figment) of her imagination”. I remember these from when I was a child.
Malapropisms are a kind of acyrologia and stem from Mrs Malaprop a character in Richard Brinsley Sheriden’s play The Rivals (1775), “He is the very pine-apple (pinnacle) of politeness!” , “He’s as headstrong as an allegory (alligator) on the banks of the Nile”. The Rivals is a comedy about the manners of the day and Mrs M was trying to be ‘posh’ to show of her vocabulary to impress but only succeeded in exposing her ignorance, we’d call her a snob today. Posh by the way comes from Port Out Starboard Home (port side of the ships to India the cool side of the boat starboard back from India reversing the cool side of the boat on the Peninsular and Orient (P&O) boats. It cost more to travel POSH which is why the rich are sometimes called ‘posh’.
Shakespeare wasn’t averse to using acyrologia either in Romeo and Juliet (1597) Ben in Act II declares: “She will indite (invite) him to some supper”, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1596) Bottom says: …”and he himself must speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect (effect)”.
My favourite has to be “star-craving mad” (stark raving mad) which surely has to be the cult of celebrity.
Many comedians have used this figure of speech in their acts The Marx Brothers, The Three Scrooges and Les Dawson “I resemble (resent) that remark!” and of course the outrageous 60’s film ‘Carry on up the Khyber’ “It’s a perfect example of British Phlegm. I spit on British Phlegm”. Though of course all of these were intentional and so we would call them Puns.
Most people can make a pun or even a malapropism by accident or design and we have all made a spoonerism at some time in our lives where we have reversed the first letters: “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” (customary to kiss), “The Lord is a shoving leopard.” (a loving shepherd), “That was a blushing crow.” (crushing blow), but paraprosdokians, sentences that have a twist in the tail which can be funny, ironic, sarcastic or sceptical, need slightly more thought and wit.
Two well known paraprosdokians, were Alistair Cooke broadcasting his “Letter from America” describing the Duke of Windsor “He was at his best when the going was good” and Winston Churchill describing someone who was too ‘big for his boots’ said “There but for the grace of God — goes God”.
These are a few more that I like; “Where there’s a will I want to be in it.”, If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong”, “I didn’t say It was your fault, I just said I was blaming you”.
Finally Cacozelia is a mode of speech in which one uses highfaluting speech, jargon, Latinate or other languages in order to appear learned. Which is what I’ve been doing by talking about acyrologia, paraprosdokians and cacozelia.
I have a husband and a father-in-law who are very fond of word ‘jokes’ so I have a veritable daily shower so I’m looking for them everywhere. Would you share your favourites?
For me this diversity is such a pleasure because I know that others share the delight of playing with words.
A reminder that this Blog’ is to promote my novel ‘Reflections of the Old Past’
Today I met a grandma who was taking her grandson to see the ‘Walrus’ at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill SE London. I call the walrus Ben he is one of my favourite exhibits in this delightful box of varieties so much so that he plays a role in my book “Reflections of the Old Past.”