Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

A range of book reviewers' clichés was held up to mockery 60 years ago, in a letter by Jocelyn Brooke to The Spectator. Brooke (1908-66) was a strange man who thought he had found his vocation in the venereal disease branch of the Royal Army Medical Corps until he burst into authorship, publishing two books a year from 1949 to 1958.

One reviewers' cliché he singled out was the use of the adjective jejune. Today it survives as a shy visitor to the journalistic bird table, of uncertain identity. In other words, many who use it don't know what it means. In the 1950s, jejune was generally used to mean 'thin' or 'unsatisfying' in some way. Indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary supplies more senses for jejune than it does quotations illustrating them: 'unsatisfying to the mind or soul; dull, flat, insipid, bald, dry, uninteresting; meagre, scanty, thin, poor; wanting in substance or solidity.'

The most recent example it gives is from Henry Hallam's View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages, published in 1818: 'The chroniclers of those times are few and jejune.' He meant they provide thin pickings. …

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