" ... in almost all of my Edinburgh novels the characters inevitably at some stage make their way to Jenner's, that great Edinburgh store which dominates one end of Princes Street. Jenner's has always represented Edinburgh - or at least a certain part of Edinburgh - distilled. Edinburgh primness and respectability is, of course, a huge joke that we all enjoy. Jenner's, with the grandeur of its building, and its tea room, is the very embodiment of the old-fashioned city - its face turned firmly away from any form of coarseness or vulgarity. Of course life, for most, is distinctly not a matter of cream teas and perjink respectability, but it adds to the texture and variety of a city to have such things in our midst. (Perjink, incidentally, is a Scots word that I think Edinburgh should claim for itself. Perjink is neat and tidy, perhaps a bit fussy. And it is the fussiness that makes it a real Edinburgh word. Edinburgh is not at all fantoosh - another wonderful Scots word. Other cities can be fantoosh (flashy and showy), but not Edinburgh. If you want to buy anything really fantoosh, you probably have to go somewhere other than Jenner's."
That's from A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh by Alexander McCall Smith, and in a typically personal note to the picture shown above (Jenner's Tea Room, 1895), a place he describes as "the headquarters of genteel Edinburgh", he goes on, "Jenner's features in a number of the Scotland Street novels - not least as a place where the characters go while the author is deciding what should happen next." Sad to say, the tea room visited by Domenica and friends no longer looks as it did in 1895.
For 'Cornflower in conversation' with this much-loved author, click here.
I have a lot of books that I should be talking about but somehow today I'm 'fusionless', uninspired and disinclined to make the effort, so as we haven't had a 'good words' post for some time, this will suffice. If you click on the link above and then on the wee recording you'll hear how the word is said when it has an 'h' in the middle; my Highland grandmother used to say it, but with a longer 'u', no 'h', and a harder 's', and indeed the Scots dictionary gives many spellings and examples of usage - I can't link directly but if you're so minded you can put the word in the search box here and you should find them.
Smeddum is another very good word meaning "spirit, energy, drive, vigorous resourcefulness” (there's more on it here), and of course it was the title of a short story by Lewis Grassic Gibbon; let's hope I have some of that tomorrow.
I can't close today, though, without reference to at least one book. My wish list has grown a little longer thanks to all the collections of letters you kindly recommended in response to Sunday's post, and it was further augmented this morning by a book I hadn't come across before I saw it mentioned on Twitter, and that is Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne-Jones, a collection of 25 of her articles on topics including "literary criticism (such as a study of narrative structure in The Lord of the Rings and a ringing endorsement of the value of learning Anglo Saxon), autobiographical anecdotes about reading tours (including an account of her famous travel jinx), revelations about the origins of her books, and thoughts in general about the life of an author and the value of writing". It sounds fascinating.
It's a bright and breezy run through "the formulas, flowers and figures of rhetoric", or figures of speech, in 39 short chapters (that's including "a divigation concerning versification", or a quick look at metre). Every figure is explained or illustrated with quotations from great literature and popular culture, so for instance, we discover that Yoda is the master of hyperbaton - that is using words in the wrong order; "Bond. James Bond" is one of the most famous examples of diacope, or the verbal sandwich; Tom Jones was employing litotes when he sang "It's not unusual ...", as was Queen Victoria when an off-colour remark aired at dinner caused her to say "we are not amused".
Alongside the familiar such as alliteration, hyperbole, assonance, personification, and transferred epithets ("disabled toilet''), are figures which are just as often used but whose names are less well-known. Lawyers* are fond of merism - words for words' sake, as in naming the parts of things rather than the whole, so "ladies and gentleman", instead of "people", Cole Porter's "Night and Day" rather than "always". Lawyers also love hypotaxis, that is using many subordinate clauses. This infuriates the rest of humanity leading to lines such as Shakespeare's earliest memorable one: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (Henry VI Part 2), which is itself an example of prolepsis, or using a pronoun before the noun to which it refers.
Lennon and McCartney get as much of a look in here as do Churchill, Kennedy, Dickens, and sundry poets. "I do not believe," says Mark Forsyth, "that The Beatles had any idea what anadiplosis was [it's the repetition of the last word of one clause as the first word of the next], any more than I believe that the Rolling Stones knew about syllepsis [one word used in two or more incongruous ways]. They knew what worked, and it did," and so as the book examines each rhetorical figure it is "a looking glass, in which you can see the best of your words," for we all use these figures of speech, all the time, and this funny, sharp, clever little volume reveals the formulae behind all the best lines.
My cover picture there of Mark Forsyth's book The Etymologicon isn't as clear as it might be, but the subtitle says it all: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, and what lover of words could resist that?
Mark is the author of The Inky Fool blog, and in the book he looks at etymology in an associative way, taking a word full circle through inter-connected chapters, linking terms through their original or common usage, veering off at tangents, and all in a dizzyingly stimulating manner! I've been dipping into the book (which begins, incidentally, with 'book' - though not in the sense you might think - and eventually returns there, some 233 pages later) and finding it as addictive as does Matthew Parris, and I foresee that the quiz questions at the back will be just the thing for the post-Christmas lunch lull, but I'm finding it funny and fascinating and full of facts that take you off along highways and byeways. Here are a few examples:
Why do guns (Mons Meg, Brown Bess, etc.) have girls' names? As Mark Forsyth explains, 'gun' is itself a girl's name. And what has 'gun' to do with the invention of bluetooth technology? You'll have to read the book to find out!
Did you know that if you trample, tootle, wrestle or fizzle, you are being frequentative (see also gruntled/disgruntled).
What is the origin of the phrase 'before you can say Jack Robinson'?
Where does that phrase come from? With what is it associated? Has it anything to do with 'Bob's yer uncle'? Lesley says that as far as she knows, the latter didn't gain currency until several years after Dana's book was published, and she also mentions that 'off like Bob's horse ...' turns up in a 1912 novel by Mary Rogers Bangs, but again there's no clue as to its origin or derivation.
"To go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment".
I've been gallivanting - going to London and back in under 24 hours, popping into The London Library and a Wren church, attending a literary party, dining in a jewel of a private members' club in a tiny Georgian house hidden away up a narrow alley, visiting the British Museum (to see some of Mrs. Delany's work), spotting Brian Sewell, Grayson Perry and Andrew Graham-Dixon there, avoiding the cameras filming two of them, and all that in scorching heat the like of which we are not used to in Britain in late September!
The main purpose of my visit was that party to celebrate Bloomsbury Books' 25th. birthday. I joined Simon and Elaine, we saw Grayson Perry (so that was twice in one day), Raymond Blanc, Paul Hollywood (from the Great British Bake-off!), and were there with many writers, agents and members of the publishing fraternity, not least our delightful hosts.
My gallivant is over, my carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, and I'm sweeping the kitchen floor again. If anyone finds a glass slipper in that magical marquee in a Bloomsbury square, it'll be mine.
If you're having a bit of a browse, going from this site to that with no particular aim in mind, you could be said to be stravaiging. It means roaming or wandering about "in an aimless casual way" and as a noun, too, it means a ramble or stroll.
There will be plenty of people stravaiging about the place here in Edinburgh tonight as they take in the new year, but if quieter pursuits are more your cup of tea, why not stravaig over and try Norm's fiendish literary quiz - with prizes!
There has been a bit of a dearth of books around here lately, and that's because I seem to be having a much-needed, though unintended, reading pause. I suppose it's rather like having eaten a lot of rich food, you have to give your system a rest and feed it something small and plain and palate-cleansing. So as there's a lull on the book front, let's look at the word 'lull' which I think is a good one, soft of sound and cadence, largely pleasant of meaning.
I say largely pleasant because a lull is a whaling term, being a tube to convey blubber into the hold of the ship (not a lot of people know that - and nor did I until I looked it up just now!), but we know it rather as a verb meaning "to soothe with sounds or caresses; to induce to sleep or to pleasing quiescence" (I'm drifting off even as I type...).
There's a lull in a storm, of course, which perhaps lulls those caught up in it into a false sense of security; Matthew Arnold talks of "a lull in the hot race" in the last stanza of his soulful poem The Buried Life, and Paul Robeson famously sings "lulla lulla lulla lulla bye bye" in this old song!
We do 'Good lines' posts here periodically, so why not some 'Good words'? To start with how about the very good Scots word 'smeddum'. I think of it because yesterday a friend described one of my children as having smeddum, and if I explain that it means "spirit, energy, drive, vigorous commonsense and resourcefulness", you'll see that that was a compliment!
'Smeddum' is also the title of a book, a collection of work by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, coming from his acclaimed short story of the same name.