Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Epiphanic

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Epiphanic

Article excerpt

'I love the pumping station,' said my husband, waving a copy of the Docklands and East London Advertiser which reported the architectural listing of the Isle of Dogs storm water pumping station.

'I'd been looking for that,' I said patiently (I thought). 'The listing is not the point.' A reader had sent the paper to me because of the strange language used by John Outram, the architect of the Grade II* building, put up between 1986 and 1988: 'Decoration is the origin and essence of architecture. It can mediate, in the theatre of a built room or a big city, the epiphany of a meaning. I aimed to invent that "meaning" and confirm those epiphanic techniques.'

Now, I'm not saying that no one can use the word epiphanic (though, before 1951, no one felt the need to). Nor am I saying that a pumping station, decorative or not, may not spark an epiphany. But I'm unsure about Mr Outram's choice of vocabulary. 'To mediate the epiphany of a meaning' is, in plainer English, 'to say something'. Anyone who thinks that saying something is unremarkable doesn't appreciate how wonderful language is.

An epiphany, a moment of revelation, takes its name from the Epiphany, when Christ was made manifest to the three wise men. …

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