Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The language of "Parade's End"

"Downton Abbey" is hibernating for now, but anachronism-seekers can divert themselves, starting tonight, with the BBC-HBO production  of "Parade's End," the WWI tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford. I'm guessing there will be far fewer goofs per hour in this visit to Edwardian England: Julian Fellowes, after all, has to make up "DA" as he goes, while Tom Stoppard, the scriptwriter for "Parade's End," had 800-some pages of genuine 1920s literature to draw on. Besides, if the series is anything like as complex as the books, we'll have our heads full just following the plot.

Coincidentally, I was rereading "Parade's End" last fall, before news of the TV series reached my ears,  and I flagged a few words in the text that stood out. Not words that are especially likely to show up in a script -- just usages or terms that, 90 or so years later, were puzzling or surprising. I'm sure there are more coming our way; in the meantime, consider these:

If a fellow chooses to justify his seductions of uninteresting and viewy young females along the lines of freedom and the rights of man, it’s relatively respectable. 
It's tempting to read this as meaning  "showy" or "eye-catching" -- one of the senses the OED provides -- but the context makes it clear that viewy here (and commonly, in Ford's circle) means "having views," politically opinionated in one slightly disparaged way or another. In both senses, the word dates to the mid-1800s, and it attracted some unfavorable notice from the language watchers of the era. Ford's "viewy young females" are probably would-be emancipated women like the suffragette his hero falls for.

Each knew the names of birds that piped and grasses that bowed; chaffinch, greenfinch, yellow-ammer (not, my dear, hammer! ammer from the Middle High German for "finch"), garden warbler, Dartford warbler, pied-wagtail, known as "dishwasher." 
It's true that the hammer in yellowhammer is not related to hammer "tool for pounding nails." But that doesn't mean the h in yellowhammer is a mistake, according to the OED (as of 1921). Though the source isn't certain, "connection with or assimilation to Old English -hama, Old High German -hamo covering, skin, feathers ... seems probable, and the form yellow-ham n., which may go back to an Old English type *geolo-hamathe yellow-feathered bird, gives support to the hypothesis." Thus, "both forms -hammer and -ammer are historically justifiable; Yarrell's proposed rejection of -hammer (see British Birds, 1843, I. 446) is based on insufficient evidence."

As Man of Intellect, Campion was convinced, Tietjens was dissatisfied with his lowly job of draft-forwarding officer, and wanted a place of an extravagantly cooshy kind in the general's own entourage. 
Cooshy, more commonly spelled cushy, was recent slang when Ford wrote; the OED's earliest citation is dated 1915, and like most of the examples, is in the context of military service: "The billets here are very good ... and we have rooms to ourselves ...  It's all very cushey and nice." Cushy (from the Hindi ḳhūsh, "pleasant," says the OED, or maybe Romany kushto, "good," says slangmeister Jonathon Green) also described a not-serious injury: "All our men who have had the luck to get a 'cushie wound'" (1917).

The duchess had delivered, apparently, a vindictive, cold, calm and uninterruptible oration on the wickedness of her country's allies as people who [had] allowed France to be devastated, and the flower of her youth slain in order that they might put up the price of a comestible that was absolutely needed in her life.
The odd thing here is that the comestible in question is coal. And though it's easy enough to metaphorically equate food and fuel, I've never heard comestible (from the Latin for "eat up") used of anything except edibles. Did Ford simply misunderstand the word?

They say you ought to give a lover a chance of a final scene before leaving him or her for good. Still more your mother. That was jannock.
Jannock is "a modern dialect word," says the OED, meaning "fair, straightforward, genuine." It may be connected with jannock, a Northern English oat bread or oatcake, and in the 1860s, contributors to Notes & Queries enthusiastically embraced the connection. From the bread, one wrote, "the word 'jannock' comes to be used in Lancashire as meaning 'without deceit, no cringer, sincere, straightforward, independent, &c.,' and it well expresses the character of Lancashire men, who for the most part are blunt and homely, like their jannock, if you like, but straightforward, sincere, and independent."

Another 1860s writer asserts that jannock was brought to America by the Puritans, where it morphed into johnnycake. This claim is repeated in recent food writing, including the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, but I haven't seen any supporting evidence. And a scholarly doubter points out that "this explanation does not take account of the fact that ... 'oat cake' had not been part of the diet of the 'southern lowland' emigrants to New England." OED, please put johnnycake on your priority list!

1 comment:

empty said...

if the series is anything like as complex as the books

Seems unlikely.

Maybe I'll read the books, so that on top of the curmudgeonly pleasure of anachrononism-spotting I can say "That's not how it was in the book!" On the other hand, Tom Stoppard ... maybe it'll be all right.