Archive for the 'language' Category

From ‘pub’ to ‘pisshouse’

23 January 2009


One of the finest apologies ever seen, from the British Medical Journal, is spotted by the Guardian’s diary:

“During the editing of this Review of the Week by Richard Smith, the author’s term ‘pisshouse’ was changed to ‘pub’ in the sentence: ‘Then, in true British and male style, Hammond met Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, in the pub and did a deal.’ However, a pisshouse is apparently a gentleman’s toilet, and (in the author’s social circle at least) the phrase ‘pisshouse deal’ is well known. (It alludes to the tendency of men to make deals while standing side by side and urinating.) In the more genteel confines of the BMJ Editorial Office, however, this term was unknown and a mistake was made in translating it into more standard English. We apologise.”

Hard to believe that the editorial wing of the British Medical Association – which, let’s face it, is one of the bastions of the British establishment – is a stranger to the notion of deals being done in the gents, although I’m willing to believe that they wouldn’t use the word ‘pisshouse’ to describe it. Reminds me of a friend (I need to be a bit vague here) who was one of the first women to serve on an all-male governing body.  She would find  that the men would call an adjournment and then resolve their differences during the break, usually in the gents. She would have to make herself unpopular by asking them to repeat conversations which had been conducted “in private” in the break.

Poetry’s challenge to language and utilitarianism

8 March 2008

sean o’brien

Sean O’Brien has an article in The Guardian’s Review today in which he suggests that poetry is difficult for readers precisely because it is a challenge to the mundane way in which we now expect to use language (‘The facts, Mr Gradgrind…).

The difficulty that readers face owes much to the fundamentally prosaic and utilitarian view of language which dominates our period: speed, impact and “the facts” are pre-eminent. … “Read poetry: it’s quite hard,” the poet Don Paterson crisply suggested. To do so requires us to claim that imaginative space, and to live with Keats’s “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts”, rather than rush to conclude and summarise. Part of what Eliot called “the shock of poetry” lies in the fact that what it offers is often both instinctively recognisable and at the same time resistant to interpretation – a three-dimensional experience for the imagination, not a mere scanning of captions.