Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`WHY are you reading that now?' I asked my husband as he summoned me from the kitchen to hear another snippet from The Gates of Memory, the memoirs of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, which were published in 1981.

`Got it cheap. Now listen. Keynes's grandmother told him a story when he was a boy, of a Congregationalist minister praying during a drought. "Lord, please give us rain - drizzle drozzle, drizzle drozzle, for about a week." '

I had to admit it was a nice little story, even though a saucepan had boiled over. As I cleared up the mess, my mind began to run on iteration like drizzle drozzle in English word formation - the way one's mind does when one is poking around under the gas-rings.

There is a lot of it about these days, what with the iterative Tinky-Winky and Laa-Laa on the Teletubbies programme for 18-month-old children. We all do it, though, from childhood, through our schoolroom reduplicative Greek perfects and pluperfects, through the weatherman's `spits and spots' of rain, until we are gaga. No doubt it was this common tendency that attracted the inventor of the Teletubbies, whose name is the monosyllabic Anne Wood. …

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