'When I use a word,'Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.' Lewis Carroll 'Through the looking glass, and what Alice found there.'
2:48pm Wednesday 30th May 2012 in Columns
Anyone have to buy a birthday present for a pedantic man? I have the perfect gift. 'The Etymologican' by Mark Forsyth, also called The Inky Fool. It is described as a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language. Each page flourishes with delicious wallowing in words. It is not for the person who relishes text speak or whose vocabulary is happily served by 100 words. Today I am playing with antanaciasis. (I want to adopt a baby and call him that.) It is using the same word in different senses and people have been doing it since language began. Take the Roman sentence, malo malo malo malo. Which translates as 'I would rather be in an apple tree than be a bad boy in trouble'. Limited usefulness perhaps. Which might explain why I suggest the gift is best suited to a man. For – and here I shall be accused of sweeping generalisation – men are much more fascinated by words than women. Perhaps it is because men have more time to play with them and analyse them and they do so love to treat them as toys. Women would argue, I guess, that they are much too busy for such niceties and are concerned with the directness of speech, busy as they are with children, families, husbands, jobs, being thin. Except for television presenter and popular historian Lucy Worsley who has enraged the media world by declaring herself to have been 'educated out of motherhood'. I bet she can compose antanaciasis that would have us holding our sides with laughter. But isn't she right? Everywhere we turn we read and hear that being a mother is extremely hard. Everyone nods sagely and tells us that all that juggling and trying to achieve perfection drives women to anti-depressants and for what purpose? I am told motherhood is harder than it was. I always seem to miss the boat where optimum difficulty is concerned. It didn't seem hard to work, play and produce babies or, if it was, no-one would have been interested in the grumbling about something self-inflicted. Lucy expressed it badly but I expect she has been under pressure to explain why she doesn't have children. Perhaps she is clever enough to anticipate what happened to me last week. I looked at my son, never much bother and certainly not the cause of a noticeable decrease in my intelligence, and thought,'Heck, I gave birth to a middle-aged man.'