Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

VERONICA is going through a phase in which she thinks that a few reference books will improve her writing. Would I get her The New Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations for Christmas? Well, I shall wait to see how The Spectator reviews it, but I did go as far as turning over its pages in the bookshop.

The very first quotation is from Diane Abbott, MP: `The honest truth is that if this government were to propose a massacre of the first-born, it would still have no difficulty in getting it through the Commons.'

That seemed familiar, but not from anything I had heard her say. I seem to remember Alan Watkins making occasional references to the `Massacre of the Innocents (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill' that Mr Jack Straw would push through Parliament at any moment. When I asked him, he denied paternity. But I doubt that Miss Abbott, in a remark from 1998, is the lone mother either.

The preface disarmingly invites corrections and improvements. It is a book that gives more quotations from Martin Amis than from Kingsley Amis; quotes Tony Parsons but not Jeffrey Bernard (except in the title of Keith Waterhouse's play) quotes (thrice) Kurt Cobain but not Dominic Behan (`Dublin in the Green', `Foggy Dew'); gives the originating quotation for Iron Lady but not for Iron Certain; and gives the first name of Lord Shawcross not as Hartley but as William, who is his son. …

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