Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

I HAVE just moved the cat from the kitchen table in the hope that it had made a day-bed of some annotations I had collected on J.K. Rowling. I thought they would be timely (or timeous as people like to say, all of a sudden).

Since I can't find them and we've heard quite enough about Harry Potter for the time being, here is some more on bezoars. Lady Jennings from Cambridge has just had what we all recognise - the word popping up again after encountering it once. She found bezoar (the supposedly counter-poisonous congelation in a goat's stomach, 'Mind your language', 15 January) in Christopher Smart's A Song to David:

For ADORATION, incense comes From bezoar, and Arabian gums, And on the civet's furr ....

The metre shows that Smart pronounced bezoar as two syllables, before the 19th-century spelling-pronunciation came in. Lady Jennings suggests that Smart, at least, supposed bezoar emitted a smell. Perhaps it does, or else its place in incense is attributable to its antidotal quality, as Sir Thomas Browne puts it. For I, too, experienced the Jennings effect by stumbling across bezoar yesterday in his Vulgar Errors even though it is not in the table of contents. …

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