Buy Books for Syria

Waterstones has come together with Oxfam, authors and UK publishers, to raise money for Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal.


From Thursday 1st October, all Waterstones shops will sell a fantastic selection of books by bestselling authors in our ‘Buy Books for Syria’ campaign. All of the books have been donated by their publishers and we will donate 100% of the full retail price to Oxfam’s Syria crisis appeal.

Socratic spuriousness…

Dipping into Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, which I’ve been lugging around in my rucksack since I bought it. I couldn’t decide whether to treat it as a reference book or to try to read it straight through. It’s already got me smiling to myself though, with its inclusion of a quote from William Caxton which laments the changes to the English language as he got older:

‘And certaynly our langage now vsed varyeth ferre from that whiche was vsed and spoken whan I was borne’
(And certainly the language now used is very different from that which was used and spoken when I was born).

Considering that he was writing in the 15th century, it seems that those who complain about neologisms entering the OED are just part of a long tradition. I’d assumed that this was all just a reaction to advancing technology and the pace of change in the world.

It put me in mind of a quote from Socrates on the declining manners of children that I’ve come across on several occasions:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

This seemed to confirm the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that every generation produces the same disapproval of the one it spawns. Only, in this case, it seems a spurious tale. On looking to confirm the provenance, Bartleby, however, suggests a 20th century origin.

Caxton is real, Socrates (via Plato) it seems is not.

Thank heavens for the internet, by turns the destroyer and saviour of language and culture.

Missing the point?

I love how people get their knickers in a twist over punctuation – are we English speakers unique in this?

The Guardian has a review today of Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. Sounds like an interesting attempt to wrest the dots and dashes of the language back from the pedants:

“His central argument, buttressed by countless well-chosen examples and enlivened by the odd whimsical digression, is that neither a phonetic, nor a semantic, nor a grammatical account of our punctuation system is singly sufficient. Those hoping to make punctuation logically consistent are chasing a will o’ the wisp – and ignoring the aesthetics and the pragmatics of practice. But nor is it a complete free-for-all. There are discoverable rules, or at least workable generalisations, about how punctuation functions. However, they are discoverable by the study of usage rather than from old school textbooks.”

Only, said pendants then all descend upon the comments section to argue over en-dashes, semicolons (or is it semi-colons), and even the usage of the humble comma.

It’s not that I disagree with the idea of correct usage, it’s the puritanical zeal with which some pursue it that puzzles me. If only people could get as animated about real injustices…

Star struck…

I bumped into historian Dan Jones in the pub last night. I was several pints into an after-work session with some colleagues and recognised him at the bar.

I say ‘recognised’, I managed to remember the title of one of his books, but couldn’t recall his actual name and had to rely on one of the bar staff to prompt me, before I gushed about my admiration for his work. I think I actually addressed him as ‘Oh, it’s the history man!’.

He took my inebriated overtures in good part though, and seems like a really nice guy.