Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

In the preface to Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens replied to those who accused him of being a mere caricaturist. What is caricature to one man, he said, is pure and unvarnished truth to another.

He was certainly right, at least with regard to language. Though few recognise it, people in this country are still speaking pure Dickensian, for which I thank God. To listen to my patients complaining in Standard English would be the purest torture.

Of course, the beauty of Dickensian speech depends wholly upon the existence of Standard English, but that is another matter. There would be no uplift, no soaring of the spirit, in Mrs Gamp feeling so dispoged, if there were no correct way to speak. No doubt there is an educational theorist somewhere who will object that there is nothing wrong with dispoged, because Betsy Prig knew exactly what Sairey Gamp meant by it; but this is an argument not worth dispoging of.

A single phrase often makes my day. I think I have not lived entirely in vain if I have heard something poetic, inventive, original and wrong. An avalanche of drivel may bury a verbal gem, and so one must listen attentively. A moment's lapse of concentration and it is lost for ever, irrecoverable. I try to impart this wisdom to my students, but few if any listen.

I once had a patient who could hardly open his mouth without uttering a perfectly formed malapropism. Alas, he is no more: but when I get to heaven, I expect him to greet me there, still complaining that the antibionics had given him a gastric stomach.

Last week, I was talking to a man about the reason he was in prison. …

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