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From The Gentleman's Magazine. FASHIONABLE ENGLISH.
HAS the extension of popular education tended to the conservation of the English language in its literary purity? Is not the word education, to some extent, a misnomer? And should not the process which we designate by that name be more properly called "instruction," that is to say in the arts and accomplishments of reading, writing, and arithmetic, which are but the tools of education, and not education itself? These questions are important, and opinion will greatly vary as to the answers that ought to be given to them. It is true, that in the late Lord Brougham's phrase, the schoolmaster has been abroad, and that the operations of that elementary functionary have been widely extended since Lord Brougham's time; and it is also true, that between the primary power of reading, and the secondary but more important power of turning that reading to profitable account, there exists a mighty difference. Lord Brougham's schoolmaster taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and Mr. Forster's schoolmasters teach little more. But this is not education, though unthinking people consider it to be so—and though paying the school-rate with more or less unwillingness, they pride themselves on doing their duty, though perfunctorily, in the cause of education. In our day as in every other, everybody speaks; and in our day as in every other, few people speak well; and in our time, more perhaps than in any other almost everybody writes. But very few authors in the last quarter of the nineteenth century write much better than they talk.
The late Mr. G. P. Marsh of Massachusetts, who died recently in the position of American ambassador to the kingdom of Italy, in his excellent lectures on the English language, originally delivered at Columbia College, New York, and afterwards reprinted in the United States and in England, records "that a distinguished British scholar of the last century declared that he had known but three or four of his countrymen who spoke their native language with uniform grammatical accuracy, and that the great French writer, Paul Louis Courrier, asserted that in his day there might have been five or six persons who knew Greek thoroughly, but that the French who could speak or write French correctly were still fewer in number."
In our day it may be said with still greater truth- as applied to the writing
of English- that of the great multitude of writers whom the extension of elementary education and the vast increase of periodical literature have produced, few take the trouble or possess the taste and ability to write their native language as it ought to be written by all who aspire to see their compositions in print.
Thousands of articles are published every day in the newspapers, and possibly thousands of novels and volumes of verse are annually given to the world without the excuse of haste which may be accepted on behalf of periodical writers. In consequence of this profusion of literary work performed by neophytes, who write as fluently as they talk, and with as little preliminary study, the standard of literary taste has fallen. Men and women who adopt the literary profession without adequate qualification, except a little smattering of everything, or who, having the qualification, are not able to afford themselves the time to give their talents fair play, seldom or never take the trouble to study critically the language which is the vehicle of their thoughts. A man may not practise as a physician or a surgeon, a barrister or an attorney, without qualify. ing himself for his vocation by time and study, and the approval of the heads of the profession to which he aspires to belong; but any man or woman can become an author- or a cook without leave asked of anybody; and the cookery in these instances is often better than the authorship.
At the same time it would be unjust to deny that many leading articles and many books, written by careless and imperfectly educated people, reflect the highest credit upon the ability of their authors. A slipshod and even a vulgar style of writing is quite compatible with persuasive power, critical acumen, irrefragable logic, and even with eloquence, inasmuch as all these intellectual gifts are sometimes found in the possession of wholly illiterate people, and even of savages. But, granted the possession of the critical acumen, the logical power and the eloquence, all these qualities would be enhanced and adorned if they were accompanied by a thorough mastery of the language in which they were exhibited, and by the graces of style which distinguish all writers of genius, and even of commanding talent.
In the days in which our lot is cast, days when in consequence of the annually increasing multiplicity of our numbers in the limited area of these islands, creating a pressure which a copious emigration
Among these stock phrases continually employed by careless writers, mere echoes of the sounds that others have made, are the following old acquaintances of the daily press: Thus if a thing is
"For a moment.".
not to be endured, believed, tolerated, or thought of, it is inevitably added that they are not to be believed, etc., for a moment.
"At large."-The community, the nation, society, the public, are scarcely ever mentioned in leading articles, or in speeches, without the unnecessary addendum "at large," though each of these substantives would be sufficient without
does but little to remove or even to allevi-
In the great and increasing army of newspaper writers, it is not to be expected that every private in the ranks is, or ever can be, a master of style, or one who can afford time to cultivate the graces of a Steele, an Addison, or a Junius. It is sufficient for the rank and file that they make themselves intelligible, and that they do not preach above the heads and the understandings of their readers. But writers may be simple and intelligible and on a level with the intelligence of those whom they address - whilst grind ing out as from a barrel-organ the old similitudes, the old and worn-out phrases of their predecessors. For a good or apt word, and a happy phrase, all readers ought to be grateful, but writers ought to beware of repeating them too often, or introducing them on all occasions relevant or irrelevant, especially if they be inferior writers mere parrots and mocking-birds ― who catch a word by the ear and use it without intelligence or necessity. Such words and phrases soon degenerate into slang.
Conspicuous by its absence." — This figure of speech was first made with happy effect by the late Earl Russell, in commenting upon the absence on a great occasion of one who ought to have been present. Since that day more than twenty years ago—the phrase, paradoxical though it be, but effective and intelligible, has taken the fancy of a vast multitude of over-ready writers, and has done duty almost diurnally, to prove the penury of idea of those who habitually make use of it.
"The irony of fate" was an excellent phrase originally, but when employed without discretion by people who have not considered what irony means, or what fate is (the stern, the unbending, the invincible, the inevitable), it becomes a locu tion as idle as the parrot's utterance of "pretty Poll." Irony is a jest, and a mockery; but there is no jesting, no mockery in fate. Jesting and mockery are human, but fate is divine.
"History repeats itself." This is an untruth, or at best a half truth, which is constantly dinned into the ears of the unthinking. The phrase is acceptable to people who would accept anything.if uttered ex cathedra and in a loud voice of authority. But the assertion is baseless. Similar incidents occur in all ages and in all countries; but the germs of those incidents, their surroundings, their developments, and their results are infinitely varied in the progress of the ages. The execution of Charles I. in England, and of Louis XVI. in France, have been triumphantly cited as proofs of the so-called fact that there is nothing new in history; but where is the repetition in the fate of Charles I. and Louis XVI. in the subsequent history of both countries? It does not exist, and the constant iteration of the phrase is not merely a misleading
platitude, but a weariness of spirit to the thoughtful few who study history for themselves and draw rational conclusions from its teachings.
When daisies pied and violets blue
Do paint the meadows with delight. But it is an example which ought not to be frequently followed- and never by "Reading between the lines."-This any one whose genius does not warrant well-worn phrase is constantly employed him in taking liberties with the language. by writers who imagine themselves to be Transpire is a word that careless writers wiser than their neighbors, and who fancy continually employ instead of to "hapthey can discover ambiguous meanings in pen." Transpire originally signified to the plainest statements, and detect treach-emit insensible vapor through the pores ery in the mere assertion that two and of the skin. It was afterwards used mettwo are four. They "read between the aphorically in the sense of to become lines," as they say, and find that two and known, to emerge from secrecy into comtwo are intended to represent five, or per-parative or positive publicity. This was haps five hundred, in the apparently plain a perfectly permissible and correct emstatement to which they give their sinister ployment of the word; but when a newspainterpretation. per writer, commenting upon the outrages committed by the Communists of Paris in 1870, spoke of "the events that have recently transpired in France," he used a word without comprehending its meaning, and outraged his mother tongue. We have not yet come to the barbarism of writing, "An accident transpired in the streets yesterday," but there is no knowing how soon the superfine penny-a-liner may ac custom us to the solecism.
Several other phrases, unobjectionable in themselves, but rendered offensive by perpetual reiteration, affront the eyes of newspaper readers every morning and evening; and infest the pages of the multitudinous novels that serve to amuse or to weary the leisure of those who have nothing to think about. Among these are "The spur of the occasion;" "The courage of his convictions; ""That goes with out saying;" "We are free to confess;" "We have a shrewd suspicion; 99 66 Equal to the occasion; ""The devouring ele ment; "Within an inch of his life," and many others equally familiar.
Among single words that may fairly come under the designation of newspaper slang, are ventilate, instead of to discuss, succumb instead of to die, demise instead of death; form instead of condition or manners; lengthy, instead of long. It must be said for lengthy when used for tediously log, that it is a good word in itself, as marking a difference between long, which is not too long- and long which is much too long; but when a writer describes a 66 lengthy journey by rail," the adjective is so misapplied, that the reader may be justified in asking if the traveller did not undertake the journey in a strengthy carriage?
The novelists in some respects are greater adepts in slang than the newspapers; and borrow the language of the sculptor and the stonemason. In describ ing the personal beauty of their heroes or heroines, they almost invariably write that their noses are beautifully cut, and their lips and chins finely or delicately chiselled; while eyebrows are neither cut nor chiselled but carved.
Paint is a word applied to the color of natural objects, for which may be pleaded the great example of Shakespeare, when
Among the recent vulgarisms that have crept into the press is an abuse of the suffix dom, from the Teutonic thum, as legitimately used in kingdom, Christendom, popedom, czardom, dukedom, earldom, wisdom, martyrdom, freedom, etc. The word, however, does not admit of unlimited extension at the hands either of neologists or of would-be-comic writers.
"Officialdom is strong in France, in Germany, and in Russia.". Globe. Still worse than officialdom, is womandom for the female sex, and trouserdom, as used by a writer in the Pall Mall Gazette, October 27, 1882, for the male sex as the wearers of trousers. But as Mademoiselle Thérèse used to sing in the cafés chantants of Paris, "Rien n'est sacré pour un sapeur," so nothing is sacred to the grinning sciolists who aspire to be facetious.
The much-abused system of competitive examination for public employment, which threatens to reduce all our young men to one dead level of Chinese mediocrity, has enriched the already too copious vocabulary of literary slang by two words: to cram, and to coach. Cram is a term of disparagement, but to coach is considered legitimate, as in the following advertisement: "A professor of elocution and dramatic art, privately coaches amateurs in acting or reading.' (The coach or the man who coaches, is sometimes irrever
Persuasion is a word that, besides its ordinary and familiar meaning - which it is unnecessary to set forth has come to signify the particular belief of any class of dissenters from the doctrines or observances of the Church of Rome. Thus, it is correct to say that a man is of the "Protestant persuasion," the "Methodist persuasion," the "Baptist persuasion," the "Presbyterian persuasion," etc.; but it is not correct to say that he is of the "Jewish persuasion," the "Mahomedan persuasion," the "Buddhist persuasion," etc., because these are not sects of any greater faiths or religions. But the prevalence of the word in religious matters has led, in the newspapers, to a wholly unjustifiable abuse of it, by the illiterate vulgar, or by the semi-educated vulgar, who are more to blame for their ignorance than the utterly ignorant. Thus, a reporter for the daily press, when exam ined as a witness, was asked what was his business or profession and replied that he was of the reportorial persuasion! just as, if an ass could speak, he might reply, if a similar question were put to him, that he was "of the asinine persuasion."
ently but not inappropriately called a indiscriminately and most improperly grinder). used for naming anything from a battle to a ship, a street, or even a dog or a horse. For instance, in commenting upon the question of the removal of the grates to the ladies' gallery in the House of Commons, the Times in a leading article remarked (July 12, 1869): "The grate question of the ladies' gallery, as Mr. Lowe christened it." That horses are christened may be learned from a writer in the Daily Telegraph, October 7, 1882, who tells the world that subsequent to the great Civil War in the United States," many a favorite hunter was christened after Stonewall Jackson." Even stones are christened, according to a writer in the same newspaper, October 22, 1882: "This quaint, strange fossil, commonly called thunderbolt, which is to be found everywhere in all the oolitic and cretaceous strata, from the lowest lias to the upper chalk, resembles nothing so much as a large tenpenny nail or slate pin, and its appearance is sufficiently indicated by its name, which, in effect, sig. nifies arrow-head. The Germans called the strange object Pfeilstein and Donnerstein, and the French christen it pierre de foudre." "Weights and measures. may also be christened according to the Equally, or even more, detestable is the Echo, May 25, 1880: "On a recent visit use of the word as applied to sex. In a of the weights and measures inspector letter from West Hampstead, in the Daily the unfortunate standards were observed, Telegraph of September 8, 1882, in refer- and Dr. Siemens was summoned in due to the alarm created by a recent form and mulcted in two marks (25.) — burglary; the writer recommends every a warning to all philosophers who may householder to discharge his revolver have weights not properly christened by whenever he shall find any unauthorized the authorities." Writing of a fashionperson of the "male persuasion on his able hairdresser in Paris, the Globe, Nopremises during the hours of darkness."vember, 1881, went so far as to baptize More flagrant still is the use of the word the action of his scissors: "His place applied to a girl or woman, as a "friend of the female persuasion." "One of the female persuasion, if she be a cook in a good family, is an awfully good friend of the unmarried policeman," is the statement of a would-be-comic writer in the columns of a would-be-comic periodical.
The loss of the good old English word clepe, which long ago dropped out of the language, and which signified to call a thing by its name, has never been satis. factorily supplied. Two irreverent and vulgar substitutes have recently been found for it, both in the press and in conversation in "baptize "and "christen." These two words ought to be reserved for the solemn ceremony of naming a child of Christian parents at the font, or of receiving a convert into the Christian Church, but of late years both have been
has become the fashionable shaving-shop of all Paris and has obtained an almost European reputation. Shaving and haircutting are a branch of art in his eyes. He studies the dress, appearance, and profession of his sitters, giving instruc tions to his acolytes who wield the shears, condescending at times to add the finishing touches. He has baptized each snip of the scissors with some peculiar name. Even the "club" of a savage, according to the Daily News, February 25, 1879, was christened. "The great hero of the Zulus, before they knew Europeans, was a warrior who christened his club 'the watcher of the fords."" The Globe, April 10, 1879, speaks of the "christening of our streets,' which certainly, if it could be effected with success upon many of. the male and female frequenters, would
be a consummation devoutly to be wished. | dare speak to her for half an hour.". "It is quite surprising what a little use "Hereward the Wake." our modern Ædiles make of history when they christen or re-christen the streets and squares of our great cities."
This word has been borrowed from the Lowland Scotch and signifies the same -or of the same place as in Mackintosh of Mackintosh, Forbes of Forbes, Macnab of Macnab, etc. In these phrases it signifies that the man's name is the same as that of his estate, and ilk is substituted, to avoid a repetition, as Mackintosh of that ilk, Forbes of that ilk, Macnab of that ilki.e., of that same. Modern writers in the press, ignorant of the true meaning of "ilk," and supposing that it signifies of the same kind, sort, description, or genus, continually make use of it in a sense that would make Mackintosh of that ilk either laugh or shudder. Thus the Standard, December 14, 1880, speaking of several Parisian journals of the same shade of politics, says: "The Défense, the Univers, and their confrères of the same ilk, are loud in their appeals to the president to throw the Chamber and the Republicans overboard." In the Pall Mall Gazette, January 24, 1869, occurs, "Many barbarians of this ilk, and even of later times;" and in the Daily Telegraph, February 8, 1870, a writer informed his readers that "Matilda lived in St. John's villas, Twickenham, and Mr. Passmore in King Street of the same ilk."
It is scarcely possible to take up any newspaper-daily or weekly metropolitan or provincial, or any magazine or periodical whatever, without finding the mathematical word "factor" employed on every variety of occasion. No doubt the word is sometimes convenient, and if only used sparingly might be accepted as a welcome substitute for many an awkward periphrasis; but its constant iteration, without reason or relevancy, is a nuisance. Take for instance the following examples of its misuse, selected at random from recent newspapers. Writing of the desire of the Americans to possess a monolith or obelisk, such as that conveyed from Egypt to London by the liberality and public spirit of Sir Erasmus Wilson, the Daily Telegraph remarks, October 12, 1880: "If Americans really travel abroad, as the New York World seems to think, because they have no obelisks at home, defeated Europe will not grudge them the most superior monolith. It seems that a man of wealth and leisure 'finds no interest to keep him in New York compared to what allures him to foreign capitals.' If obelisks make a factor in the sum of foreign allurements, by all means let New York have one or more all to herself." The weather has also its "factor," according to the Globe, May 28, 1877: "As one of the factors of weather, such as temperature, humidity, or atmospheric pressure." So also the decline of English opera is to be attributed to a "factor." "But we, while lamenting that no English opera exists, overlook the most essential factor in the case. Take our music schools, for example. What is the Royal Academy of Music doing on behalf of opera? Absolutely nothing beyond providing a small supply of men for the orchestra." - Daily Telegraph, October 25, 1877. The Jesuits and Jesuitism have also their "factor." "Jesuitism has been charged with atrocious crimes, credited with fabulous influence, supposed to possess almost superhuman cunning. But through evil report and good report it has preserved its existence, and has made itself a factor not to be neglected by any statesman or "The competition historian." Daily News, November, is so sharp and general that the leader of 1879. Mr. Gladstone, with his influential to-day can never be sure that he will not name and real scholarship, is also responbe outbid to-morrow." Quarterly Re-sible for the misuse of the word. Mr. view. And why not durst in the follow- Gladstone's article on "the Hellenic Facing extract from the Rev. Charles Kings- tor in the Eastern Question appears ley? "Neither her maidens nor the priest translated into Spanish in the Revista
Among the many corruptions which have long been creeping into the newspapers are the present tenses of the verbs to bid and to dare, which hasty writers persistently use for the preterite and past participle bade and bidden; dared and durst. The fact is that bade and durst, and even dares, have become all but obsolete in our day, without any possible reason either in grammar or in euphony. Why, for instance, should not bade or bidden be used in the following instances from the Times and the Quarterly Review? "Mr. Charles Dickens finally bid farewell to Philadelphia."-Times. "Uncertain even at that epoch (1864) of Austria's fidelity, Prussia bid high for German leadership."- Times. "He called his servants and bid them procure firearms." Times.