Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XXXIV

Altogether now. To the tune of "Yesterday":

You're not half the thing you used to be
You were a shadow hanging over me
Oh, I believed in treachery...

I know. I've said it before. And, in the sure and certain hope of sounding like a grizzled old curmudgeon, I'm about to say it again.

The mis-use of words devalues them.

When a rugby player sprains his ankle, it's described as a "tragedy", and he's "devastated" by it. Tosh. It's annoying, and he's slightly upset. And when a couple of hundred people drown in the Cook Islands because of the venal actions of incompetent civil servants, it's also described as a "tragedy". What - it's as upsetting as some footy player spraining an ankle? I think it's a little more severe than that.

I watched the TV progarmme about James Cook last night. It was, on the whole, very good, and I shall watch the next episode with interest. Only one major blue: right at the start, they had a shot of a childish Cook superimposed on the Union Flag. When he was a lad, the Union wasn't in existence, so the Union Flag (or Union Jack, when it's flown from a vessel) didn't exist. A trifling concern, and satisfying only to nit-picking old sods in stained trackpants. (Mine aren't stained, I hasten to add.)

But I was irked when the perky little presenter described the North Sea as "treacherous". Now, let's think about this. The North Sea is a dangerous stretch of water. Storms are sudden, and violent. In the days of sail, literally hundreds of craft foundered in the North Sea (I'm pretty sure it was called the German Sea back then, by the way. But let's not quibble.).

To sail into the North Sea was to put yourself into peril. So, you expected danger, you expected to be in danger. If a storm arose, the North Sea was meeting your expectations - which is precisely the opposite of treacherous. Letting go of the athropomorphic argument (a non-sentient thing cannot possibly betray you, because the act of betrayal demands a conscious decision), if something / someone does what they're supposed to do, they're not being treacherous.

If the North Sea became a pellucid lake every time anyone sailed upon it, then it would have betrayed all expectations. It didn't. Therefore, it was not treacherous.

So, when someone does willingly and unexpectedly betray you, knowing full well that their actions are going to hurt you... they're being treacherous. When something acts as expected, they're fulfilling your expectations, and being loyal to you.

The North Sea is not, and cannot ever be, treacherous. If a human motivation is to be ascribed to it... it's merely being loyal. Dangerous, perilous, and loyal.

LISTENING TO: Johnny Winter, "Johnny Winter". His first album, and the first pure blues music I ever heard. It was a stunning revelation, after the Pat Boones and Doris Days the radio played back in the 50s and 60s.

READING: Finishing "Dewey" today. It's really, really sweet.

GOING TO: Jenny's Mum's place today. Happy Mother's Day to allMumsy-wumsys. It's not an exagerration to say that you are the most important people on the planet. Followed closely, of course, children.

More "Paper Heroes":

“48, Sire,” said Fox, giving his lover an extra few days. If there’s one thing that Gaius Andronicus Equus Gluteus Maximus isn’t, it’s numerically literate.
Fox left, leaving a trail of skin behind him. “Woman,” called The Equus. “Come in with your broom.”
The current wife of The Equus, his 13th to date, came in and swept the floor, keeping her eyes averted. One side of her face was blackened with bruising.
“Sanfrisco,” he told her. “I’m off to Sanfrisco. By train.”
“Sire,” she said, wishing him dead. But wishes didn’t work here. They never had. They never would. “The Pin grant that your travel is blessed.” She wondered where or what Sanfrisco was, and knew she didn’t care. If he were going there, then maybe she would have some time without him.
She was, as all his wives had been, Woman. She served and serviced him completely, rarely complaining. The bruise on her face was testament to the wisdom of keeping complaints buttoned in, buttoned down, closed in.
She sighed quietly, and swept. With luck she would go to Pin soon, and be rid of this life.
She looked around his office. The wide glass-topped desk was spotless, except for a few flakes of psoriatic skin. She removed them. She had once missed some of the Fox’s diseased skin, and The Equus had made her eat it.
Her stomach heaved at the memory.
Still it is an honour to serve The Equus. Her mother had served the previous one, and she had been the result. She felt her belly. It is possible that she was carrying a child herself. It would be a miracle if she birthed, though. Brother and sister shouldn’t quicken children.
The thought made her tremble, and she glanced up. He had his back to her, and was gazing out the window. She collected the dust, and went to leave.
“Woman.” His voice was soft, almost gentle. “Make the sign.” He had been watching her reflection in the window. She obediently turned to the great Shield, and looked at it.
A great Bald Eagle, wings spread wide, two rifles in its claws. It stands before the Stripes of Red and White, and under it were the marks. She couldn’t read, but she wouldn’t have understood them even if she had been able to. But she knew they were powerful marks, marks by which her life, and the life of The Equus, was driven. Had she been able to read the marks, she would have known they read NRA.
And the Divine Pin is that which starts the bullet’s fire, which strikes down the unbeliever. The Firing Pin. She made a pistol with her fingers, and "fired" it. Then fled.


  1. Hyperbole, anthropomorphism, exaggeration - its all under the heading of 'poetic licence'. Without it, writing (And reading) would be a great deal less exciting. Admittedly, certain clichees are overworked: 'treacherous waters' being a case in point, but even these make language a touch more expressive. I mean, if I was talk of 'being bathed in golden sunshine', the literal interpretation doesn't bear thinking of, does it?

  2. I quite agree - as long as meanings aren't changed. Erk, I said, choking on my own words: meanings change constantly. Take terrific, or fantastic. Time was that the former meant truly terrifying, and the latter was a euphemism for "bullshit".
    Ah, Jim Lad: those were the days....

  3. Ah Jim, Jim, little Jim - and once upon a time 'gay' meant 'happy'. I always say that language is dynamic and how its used now will become 'correct' usage tomorrow. I also say we should learn to live with it, BUT I dread the approaching decades when 'like' will become adjective, adverb, preposition et al and 'awesomeness' will happen on an awfully regular basis.

  4. You have the makings of a fine future curmudgeon.