Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

'It's up there on the shelf you can't reach,' said my husband in an unhelpfully helpful tone. The 'it' was a copy of The King's English, Kingsley Amis's book on usage. I quoted it the other week on the deployment of the.

On the same page is a Kingsleyish word I wanted to follow up -- pissily. 'Until quite recently,' Amis wrote, 'it looked as if you could write of Greene's Confidential Agent and Burgess's Clockwork Orange and Kafka's Castle, but indexers unnecessarily and pissily put a stop to that by throwing The and A and so on back in front of the main body of the title.'

Pissily figures nowhere in the Oxford English Dictionary. That is not out of prissiness. The world's worst words, sexual C or racial N, according to your sensibilities, are there. Indeed, pissily is implied by pissy, illustrated by a quotation from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom (in the 1922 edition kindly published for him by the Oxford Times): 'That hot pissy aura of thronged men in woollen clothes.'

I don't think Amis meant that indexers give off such an aura, though he might have applauded the suggestion. …

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