Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Critique

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Critique

Article excerpt

I lost my husband on the way from Malabar. He is easily lost. We had been talking about the verb critique , which we neither much care for. But, in gathering ammunition, I'd come across this charming sentence from a book of voyages translated in 1598 by William Phillip. He referred to a 'fruite which the Malabares and Portingales call Carambolas'.

Carambola , the fruit, might have given the Portuguese and Spanish the word carambola meaning 'a cannon' in billiards, cannon coming from carom , a reduction of the French version of the word, carambole . But there is a little place near Seville called El Carambolo. A club with the grand name of La Real Sociedad de Tiro de Pichón (the Royal Society of Pigeon Shooting -- live or clay) was extending its premises there in 1958 when a glorious treasure of gold was uncovered: bracelets and pectorals and seals. These were taken by some to be the work of the Tartessian culture, centred on the lost city of Tartessos. This had long before been identified by some with Tarshish or Tharsis, mentioned in the Bible, which others said was Tarsus.

'Concerning the word Tharsish, so much criticiz'd,' wrote Sir Thomas Herbert the traveller, in 1665, 'it is Verbum ambiguum and admits a various sence. …

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