Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

I am looking forward to reading The Floating Prison, the memoirs of a French prisoner, Louis Garneray, who became an artist while captive in the hulks in Portsmouth harbour between 1806 and 1814. It is edited by the learned Richard Rose, who has just written to me about rafales - insane and insatiable gamblers in the scuppers, as it were, of hulk society.

But before I forget, did you see that play in London, See You Next Tuesday'1 It is a version of Le Diner de Cons by Francis Veber. I was wondering why Steven Spielberg had decided to call his film version Dinner for Schmucks ('Mind your language', 16 August). Since then I have come across a dubbed version on Spanish television entitled Cena de Idiotas, which answers for the denotation of the original. See You Next Tuesday is a slightly coy locution (like es-aitch-one-tee) that I haven't heard for 20 years.

But back to the hulk. These rafales would gamble away their clothes and hammocks and mortgage their future rations - so that many died of hunger and cold. Mr Rose thinks that their name came from rafale, a squall. But he notes the possible connection with raffle.

The missing link between English raffle and medieval French rafle in the same sense was once thought to be rafler, 'to make a clean sweep', but the good old OED is against it. …

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