Essays on Politics and Literature

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

Seven
Words

These were originally three-minute broadcast talks (very concentrating to the mind) from a series of the same title, reprinted in Words: Reflections In The Use of Language ( British Broadcasting Corporation, 1975).


Against Promiscuity

'Words, words, words', answered the Lord Hamlet. 'The ball seemed in the net, Montgomery1 lifted himself off the ground, somehow he got his fingers to it, a miracle, deflected it off the cross-bar; he was there by some supernatural instinct. Words fail me to describe the scene . . .!!' No they blooming well didn't, or if so, then only for the briefest moment. He was just getting his breath back. Then out flowed the words again. Never at a loss for words, but sometimes perhaps homo sapiens, ludens, the Fallen Angel or the Naked Ape is at a loss for the right words.

So I am not so sanguine (which is a lovely word to look up in the full Oxford English Dictionary) as Marghanita Laski said she was about the coinage of new words. Yes, indeed, it is one of the glories of our double-rooted English language that with it we can so readily make new words and extend the meanings of others. But they had better be good ones. Since we haven't got a French or a Hebrew Academy trying to steer the language, rather as governments try to steer the economy, and since even Sir Ernest Gowers in his great book, Plain Words, was just a little bit up-tight, then it is up to all of us who love the language to be a little sceptical, conservative or preservationist about the coiners and developers. I am wide open to be convinced, but I hate promiscuity with words.

Take just two innocent sounding extensions like 'extremist' and 'dialogue'.

How often is the concept 'religious extremist' used when what is really meant is 'fanatic' or 'zealot', both good old words, someone extreme in his claims or action, but not necessarily the extreme point of a common tendency of the religious. He may be a logical reducio ad absurdsam of orthodoxy or he may be plain idiosyncratic. But with the common phrase 'student extremist' the tar-brush of extended meaning is often deliberate. In any precise sense 'student

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Essays on Politics and Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Foreword ix
  • One - Literature and Politics 1
  • Two - The Political in Britain's Two National Theatres 20
  • Notes 47
  • Three - Young Writers of the Thirties 48
  • Four - Koestler's Koestler 62
  • Five - Hannah Arendt: Hedgehog or Fox? 72
  • Six - Beatrice Webb as English Diarist 78
  • Seven - Words 85
  • Notes 92
  • Eight - My LSE 93
  • Nine - Reading The Observer as a complex text 106
  • Notes 116
  • Ten - On the Difficulties of Writing Biography in? General and of Orwell's in particular 117
  • Eleven - Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four As Satire 133
  • Notes 163
  • Twelve - Animal Farm For Schools 166
  • Thirteen - Orwell and English Socialism 192
  • Notes 207
  • Fourteen - On the Orwell Trail 209
  • Notes 224
  • Fifteen - Wedekind's 'Spring Awakening' 225
  • Sixteen - Horvath's 'Tales From the Vienna Woods' 231
  • Seventeen - Pinter's 'No Man's Land' 239
  • Eighteen - Polly By Gaslight 245
  • Nineteen - David Edgar Catches Peter Jenkins' Ear at the Barbican 251
  • Twenty - Barrault at the Barbican 254
  • Index 257
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