Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`WHY don't you phone her up, then?' my husband said, more by way of a challenge than in a spirit of helpmately advice.

The 'her' in question was Lynn Barber, and the matter on which she might have helped was what she thought she meant by what she wrote. Anyway I didn't have her number, and I hadn't peeled the potatoes and Veronica had three 'friends' descending on us for lunch.

Lynn Barber had written, in a review of Nicholas Shakespeare's biography of Bruce Chatwin, that `in barely a year he moved from being a rather shy, lumpen country lad to a perfect Smootherboy'. What it looked as if she meant by lumpen was `lumpy, awkward', 'a hobbledehoy' as Trollope would have said. If this is not what she meant, no matter, because there are a lot of other people doing it, and I think I know who is to blame.

The guilty man, as so often, is Karl Marx. In 1850 and 1852 he wrote a couple of treatises in German about the dear old class-struggle, and he referred in them to the most degraded section of the proletariat, the down-and-outs who did not contribute to the workers' cause, as the Lumpenproletariat. In that compound noun the lumpen- means 'ragged', not 'lumpy'.

As far as I can see, there is no word lumpen in English, though it sounds all right, on the model of earthen or wooden. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.